I’m been working on a career-capping passion project: Conducting video interviews of those who have suffered traumatic brain injury, as well as their families.
One of the sad refrains I hear again and again, and have heard throughout my many years working as a lawyer, is that they — TBI victims and their loved ones — want things to be the way they were before the car accident or fall or surgery or bomb blast or whatever that caused their injury.
In some cases, that happens. In most, it does not.
A few days ago it was the first anniversary of the horrendous supermarket massacre in Tucson, where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot through the head. While Giffords has made amazing progress, it’s doubtful she will ever be the same person she once was. Yet her husband, ex-astronaut Mark Kelly, remains at her side.
What is their marriage like now?
The New York Times Tuesday did a fascinating story on the impact, and strain, that life-changing TBI puts on what was once marital bliss. The headline was “When Injuries To The Brain Tear At Hearts: Marriage Counseling Is Evolving To Help Couples Survive Personality Changes And Physical Challenges.”
The Times story said, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, many relationships do survive after a spouse suffers a brain injury.” In fact, the paper claimed that research indicates that the divorce rate was 17 percent for couples where one spouse had TBI, a statistic that’s below the national average.
But researcher and psychologist Jeffrey Kreutzer of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond put a damper on that good news. He told The Times that the quality of the relationships two people once had can be “seriously diminished.” Wives and husbands can feel like they are living with a stranger because of the profound impact of brain injury.
Kreutzer is part of a group of therapists at Virginia Commonwealth who are trying to tailor marriage counseling to couples impacted by TBI.
The story offers two cases studies: One of a couple where the wife is struggling to cope with her husband’s personality changes and depression, and a second couple that seems to be adapting fairly well to the husband’s TBI.
It circles back to what I said at the beginning of this blog, that most people with TBI will never be the same as they were before their injuries, and that the emotional tenor of their relationships will likely not stay the same.
Kreutzer’s role “means teaching uninjured spouses to forge a relationship with a profoundly changed person — and helping injured spouses to accept that they are changed people.”
The idea is to keep people looking to the future, not the past.
I wish Kreutzner and his colleagues success in their work, helping troubled couples impacted by TBI.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
email@example.com :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.