Patients who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) often have emotional difficulties after the injury. Limited treatment options have been available to patients who experience such emotional difficulties following a TBI. Existing approaches to emotional problems following a TBI focus on specific symptoms and behaviors. Treatment targeting symptoms or diagnoses following a TBI may not be sufficient for improving emotional regulation skills.
Issues with emotional regulation that may follow a TBI can affect patients’ lives and reduce their ability to participate in other rehabilitation treatments. TBI patients may experience problems in emotional functioning, awareness, recognition, expression, and regulation of emotions. New research examining treatments for emotional deficits after TBI were presented in a recent issue of Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
Studies Evaluate Treatments for Emotional Problems After TBI
In one study analyzing “telerehabilitation” training in emotional regulation skills that was provided through videoconferencing was evaluated in terms of expanding access to treatment for emotional challenges following TBI.
Theo Tsaousides, PhD, and other researchers of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, evaluated the web-based intervention program designed to improve emotional regulation after TBI. The study included 91 adults with a history of TBI who experienced problems with emotional regulation. Mild TBI (mTBI) was diagnosed in nearly half of the patients. The average time since the TBI was ten years.
Study participants received 24 one-hour emotional regulation skills training sessions, delivered by videoconference, over a period of 12 weeks. The sessions were supervised by experienced rehabilitation neuropsychologists. The program educated viewers on how TBI affects emotional functioning, followed by training, practice, and feedback related to strategies for improving emotional regulation skills in everyday life.
At the end of the program, the study indicated that participants showed improvements in emotional regulation, as measured by an emotional regulation questionnaire. Follow-up assessment showed continued improvement. Measures of positive emotions, satisfaction with life, and problem-solving skills improved. Participants indicated substantial progress toward their personal goals. Nearly 90 percent reported moderate to large improvements in their emotional regulation skills.
Videoconferencing Expands the Reach of Treatment of TBI-Related Deficits
Traumatic brain injury may result in many varied symptoms, including emotional regulation issues that can prolong the period of recovery.
Videoconferencing technology could help to overcome distance and travel barriers to treatment, while maintaining the benefits of group interventions, according to Dr. Tsaousides. Web-based group intervention provided individuals opportunities to modify their emotional and behavioral responses according to goal objectives and situational demands.
Deficits in emotional and behavioral responses are common among individuals who have suffered a TBI. Symptoms include failures in executive functioning, aggression, irritability, impulsive behavior, socially inappropriate conduct, and reduced emotional awareness and expression. These symptoms can negate benefits of other rehabilitation treatments by affecting attendance, participation, and engagement. Deficits in emotional regulation can compromise cognitive resources that are used to process new information and learn new skills.
Other papers in the special issue of Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation reported on treatments targeting emotional self-awareness, social-emotional perception, anger and aggression, and depression after TBI.
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