What is included in psychological support for postconcussive syndrome (PCS)?

Updated: Jul 25, 2019
  • Author: Roy H Lubit, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: David Bienenfeld, MD  more...
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Damage to the brain impairs a person's ability to cope at a time when the need to adapt is greatest. Demoralization, depression, anger, anxiety, and irritability are likely.

The meaning of any injury varies in part based on the patient's prior concerns and personality. For example, narcissistic patients feel narcissistically wounded by even minor losses of function. Prior emotional lability or capacity for aggression in a patient who is borderline may worsen following a head injury.

Injury when a person is in transition or moving towards an important goal, such as marriage, school completion, or job performance, has a different meaning than injury occurring when someone feels stable, stagnant, or deteriorating. Injuries that occur on a job a person already dislikes or injuries that result from negligence may evoke resentment and feelings of entitlement that are absent in similar injuries in other circumstances.

Understanding the person's preinjury personality, stresses, and the circumstances of the injury help establish realistic goals and minimize stress during rehabilitation and reentry into life. Interpreting the person's reactions to injury in light of his or her previous state builds trust, reflecting the degree to which the patient feels understood and accepted.

Avoid interpreting changes in personality or behavior in light of developmental issues or conflicts without considering the impact of the injury itself. Such interpretations may produce confusion, guilt, unnecessary resentment, and fatalism. A present-oriented, problem-focussed therapy generally is best for patients after head injury, even those whose impairment appears to be driven by exaggerated emotional responses to the experience.

Different stages of recovery require different types of psychological support. In the first months after injury, validating symptoms, helping patients relinquish responsibilities, mourning losses of function or hopes, and counseling patience with the pace of improvement are critical. Later, patients may need encouragement to push themselves to regain self-confidence and reassume their previous roles and responsibilities.

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