Traumatic brain injury can inflict significant, permanent disabilities on people, impairing anything from motor skills to their verbal and visual abilities. While TBI patients may be confused and disoriented immediately after their injury, once they understand the extent and severity of their condition, they will likely feel a tremendous sense of loss and depression.

Similarly, families and loved ones of those disabled by traumatic brain injury will also likely suffer grief and a sense of loss when they realize how the TBI patient will be permanently impaired.

As a result, both traumatic brain injury patients and their families can benefit from understanding the emotional stages of recovery for TBI. The better patients and families understand the nature of the TBI and their own feelings about it, the faster they will be able to accept it, release their grief and achieve personal growth.

Symptoms of Grief

The feelings of grief are usually brought on by external events or situations in which we lose something or feel we have no control. A grieving person may suffer from any combination of:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fear
  • guilt
  • insomnia
  • rage
  • shock
  • stress

Keep in mind that different people will experience different combinations of the above symptoms, depending on their individual personalities and triggers of grief.

Emotional Stages of Grief and Recovery

Although many different psychologists, therapists and other medical professionals have made their own classifications for the emotional stages of grief, the most widely known and, perhaps, most well respected comes from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

According to her book "On Death and Dying," Kübler-Ross detailed the emotional stages of recovery as follows:

  • denial: Most patients experience denial as their first emotional stage in recovery. In denial, patients may be anxious, afraid, in shock and/or in disbelief about their condition.
  • anger: While brain damage may directly cause anger, other patients may become enraged when they realize the extent of their loss. In this emotional stage of recovery, patients may blame others, throw tantrums, yell or become extremely frustrated.
  • bargaining: When people make statements like, "I would pay anything to get better," or, "I promise something if I can get better," they are in the bargaining stage of emotional recovery. Although the bargaining stage highlights some degree of acceptance of the condition, it also reveals persisting traces of denial that patients need to work through.
  • depression: As soon as patients start to accept the nature of their condition and resulting disabilities, they will likely become overwhelmingly saddened and suffer from depression. In general, depression is the hardest emotional stage of recovery to work through because patients will feel incapable and/or hopeless, decreasing the chances they will find and follow through with help.
  • acceptance: When patients develop a healthy acceptance of their condition, they will enjoy higher self-esteem, a positive attitude and a sense of hope for the future.

Patients won't necessarily experience all of the above emotions; nor will they experience the above emotions in exact order listed. However, all patients moving through the emotional stages of recovery will experience at least two of the above emotions before achieving acceptance.

Working Through the Emotional Stages of Recovery

The best way to move out of the negative emotions and toward mental health and wellbeing is to proceed with medical treatments, physical therapies and other prescribed rehabilitation programs.

Similarly, going to therapy (both individual and family therapy) can help patients understand their feelings and appropriately work through them. Some may even benefit from going to support groups where they can find strength and support from others enduring the hard road to recovery.