Recovery in Action

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Last week I visited South Dakota to meet with their Brain Injury Alliance President (Ron Hoops), as well as various Brain Injury Support group leaders, and the Department of Human Services. While everyone I met was wonderful and had a wealth of knowledge to share, one event in particular stands out as something that I feel the need to share.

The Brain Injury Support Group of the Black Hills in Rapid City, South Dakota was a phenomenal experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend their support group, and it was an uplifting experience. The individuals in attendance were most welcoming. After the initial self-introduction of the survivors and their families/caregivers, we split into two groups: survivors in one group, family/caregivers in the other. As a professional, I was given the option of choosing which group I would attend; I chose to stay with the survivors.

Dr. Jim Gardiner facilitated the survivor group, it was quite impressive, instead of just talking about problems and giving suggestions on tools that can be used to help with said problems – he taught the tools. He used music and games to help individuals customize the tools to help them with their own memory.

The initial goal he set forth was to learn everyone’s name by the end of the evening. In order to achieve that goal he used drum sticks, word association, repetition and music. How? For example if an individual was having problems with remembering a name, he would go around the room –asking for suggestions for associations with that name – one that really stuck with me is “Caring Karen”, Karen has a caring face, so when you see her – think “Caring Karen”, or even Darling Marla (that was one of mine), another way was to put their name to a rhythm using the drum sticks, and of course repetition doesn’t hurt either. I was amazed by the results, by then end of the evening I knew every name in the room – and so did everyone else. This is helpful on so many levels – not only were we all learning and practicing a tool that we can take into our everyday lives, but we were also building confidence and self-esteem. Individuals (including myself) who at the beginning of the night had expressed doubt in their ability to learn all the names – had indeed learned all the names. I will always look back to that evening, and see that so much is possible, if we only dare to try.

He also worked with alternating attention to assist in dealing with impulse control, for this Dr. Jim passed out maracas and drum sticks – with which we followed his lead. He used a xylophone to set the rhythm, and then the rest of the group followed along. At first he kept it easy using one steady beat “1,2,3” once we had that down, He upped the ante a bit by adding in a “1 pause 2 pause” beat, and alternated between the two – and we were supposed to keep up, switching beats when he switched. It was challenging and fun, and required concentration and impulse control.

I am not a brain injury survivor, and I walked away feeling absolutely wonderful, so I can only imagine how the others in the room felt. I can say the smiles were frequent, and the laughter was flowing – I felt like I was on top of the world, and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I must say, that if you are in the area, it is definitely worth a stop, I plan to attend the next time I’m up there.

The Brain Injury Support Group of the Black Hills meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the Community Transitions Conference Room at 6:15 P.M. and finishes by 8 P.M. It is open to individuals with brain injury, their families/caregivers, and professionals. For more information, contact Ron Sasso at rsasso@bhws.com or call (605) 718-8446.

About Penny R Miller, MS, LPC, CBIS

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