By: John Sassin, MS, CRC
Hope. It’s a small, unassuming word, but its meaning in the life of a person with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or other cognitive disability can be powerful beyond measure. I have seen this time and time again in my practice, and have learned that one of the most important things I can do as a counselor is to introduce and instill the idea of hope into the lives of these individuals. In my practice I embrace both a spiritual and operational definition of hope because often the physical disability cripples the spirit as well. I believe that hope is a result of faith, motivating one to act with the belief that there will be a positive outcome through optimism and perseverance. Hope allows a person to believe in a future of possibilities rather than a lifetime of limitations, which is at the heart of the concept of ikigai, “that which makes life worth living.”
Individuals with cognitive disabilities struggle to define, and in some cases, as with acquired brain injury, redefine their life’s purpose, especially if their injury prevents them from securing meaningful employment or returning to their previous line of work. In the world of vocational rehabilitation, the concept of hope is key to accomplishing goals and success in obtaining employment. Individuals who have developed realistic goals and who have the motivation and a plan of action to pursue and eventually reach those goals can develop a vision of a fulfilling and productive future. Once a person recognizes that the power to change his existence is within, things that once seemed like insurmountable obstacles become manageable challenges.
While I have found working to restore hope daunting at times, it is incredibly worthwhile when I am able to get my clients to explore their current experience, imagine the possibilities offered by the future, and find that hope deep inside themselves that link the two. Reminding them that each day brings another opportunity may be a little nebulous, but encouraging them to savor a warm sunny day is not, especially if they have spent any length of time in the hospital. I gently emphasize the importance of having just one encounter with another human being because it will be something that can be built upon to frame future interactions. By simply taking charge and planning out one’s day, an individual can cast apathy aside temporarily, which lessens the risk of ever being consumed by it. Even the act of being on time to an appointment is a step in the right direction. Recognizing that each and every experience is a learning opportunity to build upon and to relish is hope’s legacy and the path to redefining self and rebuilding self-esteem. What a powerfully simple gift.