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People with a brain injury often say rehabilitation is the biggest challenge of their lives. While life may never return to ‘normal’, people can influence their recovery through hard work and persistence. A steady and consistent approach to rehabilitation makes a big difference as it is important to avoid fatigue.


There will be times when it will seem impossible to see past the challenges you are facing. That’s OK – that’s a normal part of adjusting. Trying to deny the pain, fear, suffering, loss, grief, or pain you are experiencing will not make it go away, it will just make you feel bad for feeling bad. Accept that you are going to have bad moments, but also remember that these bad moments (like all emotions) will pass, and over time, they will happen less often and be less intense.

Remember to give yourself, and your family, credit for all the things you have managed to do since the brain injury happened. It is easy to underestimate how much we have adapted and how far we have come, so be sure to take note of it, and pat yourself on the back for it. It might help to tell others in your family that you can see how much they have changed, adapted, or learned new things.

Talk to someone

If you find that you cannot see any positives, it might be a good idea to see a psychologist. Talking to a psychologist can help a great deal. Make sure that the psychologist you see is registered with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and listed with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Go to your GP and ask for a referral and a Mental Health Care plan to let you claim a Medicare rebate. Alternative, the Australian Psychological Society have a web page to help you find registered psychologists in your area. go to


Resilience can be helpful for individuals and families managing brain injury. A good rehabilitation program will enhance resilience by identifying individual and family strengths.

Some of the qualities associated with resilience are:

  • having hope for the future
  • having close relationships
  • the ability to be independent, proactive and get things done
  • the ability to solve problems
  • the ability to enjoy laughter and respond to humour despite tragic situations (Rees, 2012)

Making meaning out of what happened

For many, it is important to work through the grief and shock about how brain injury has changed their lives. It is common to feel bitter, resentful, or as if it is punishment. In some cases, finding a positive outcome from the brain injury can help during rehabilitation. For example, a person may never work again but discovers happiness in volunteer work that is helping others. Others become involved in brain injury support groups and make sense of their injury by seeing how they can help others in a similar situation.

Structure and routine

There is a large amount of difference in how much structure we like in our lives, such as when to eat, rest, sleep and work. After a brain injury, however, structure and routine provides predictability that allows the brain to rest and save its energy for rehabilitation. Having meals at regular times and maintaining a healthy diet is vital. Having a weekly timetable for meal times, rest periods, rehabilitation tasks and exercise on a big poster or whiteboard will provide gentle memory prompts and encouragement if memory or motivation problems exist.

Family involvement

Research has shown improved outcomes for people with a brain injury when their families engage in the rehabilitation process (Braga et al., 2005). Although the focus of rehabilitation is usually on the injured person, a good rehabilitation team understands the importance of family (McIntyre and Kendall, 2013). It is during this formal rehabilitation stage that knowledge can be passed on to family members about how to provide support beyond the formal period of therapy. If behavioural problems emerge, family members can ask for a plan to use at home in order to respond appropriately. It is important to have a realistic discharge plan before leaving rehabilitation. Once home, it is necessary to establish a routine and consistently apply the discharge plan. It is important that the family member being cared for has control over aspects of their life they can safely manage.

Support groups

Support groups can play a vital role for the person with a brain injury, their carers and family. It is a chance to identify with others who have similar problems, to feel understood, and to discuss ways of managing new challenges. Online support groups are an option for connecting people who live in remote areas or are unable to travel.

Synapse runs support groups for people with brain injury and their families – both in person and online.

Maintain friendships

It is beneficial to stay in touch with friends during the rehabilitation and recovery stage. This can be scheduled and might be as simple as a quick phone call or email. It might be necessary to let friends know what kind of support is needed. For example, allow time for the person with brain injury to answer and understand that they will tire quickly.

Reduce the chances of another brain injury

The brain is particularly vulnerable after injury, so an important aspect of rehabilitation is minimising the chances of a second brain injury.

Rehabilitation specialists will usually recommend a person does not drink alcohol for at least a year after a brain injury, and often say it is best to permanently refrain from drinking alcohol. For the elderly, it is important to minimise falling risks around the house. For children, helmets must always be worn for risky activities such as cycling.


Rees, (2012). Resilience of people with traumatic brain injury and their carers. InPsych, 34 (2), publications/inpsych/2012/april/rees

McIntyre, M. and Kendall, E. (2013). Family Resilience and Traumatic Brain Injury. In H. Muenchberger, E. Kendall and J. Wright (Eds). Health and Healing after Traumatic Brain Injury: Understanding the Power of Family, Friends, Community and Other Support Systems. (pp. 57- 69). Westport, CT: Praeger.