June 5, 2024

Psychotherapy for Concussions

A concussion is also known as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)... although anyone who’s experienced one knows that there’s nothing mild about it!

What Happens When You Get a Concussion?

Concussions occur after a blow or jolt to the head or body that results in the brain rapidly moving back and forth - stretching, crushing, twisting, or otherwise contorting soft tissue and colliding against the inside of the skull. This rapid movement damages neurons, impacting their ability to function and communicate. This damage then triggers inflammation, which can actually cause further damage if excessive. Such damage disrupts neurotransmitter levels and can lead to depression, anxiety, and memory problems. Additionally, concussions interfere with the brain’s ability to create and utilize adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - a molecule that cells use to store and transfer energy - and can therefore result in fatigue and concentration issues.

In addition to depression, anxiety, memory problems, fatigue, and concentration issues, concussion symptoms may include headaches and migraines, dizziness and balance problems, light and sound sensitivity, neck and shoulder pain, nausea and vomiting, cognitive impairment, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and personality changes. While most concussions resolve after a few weeks, some individuals develop post-concussion syndrome wherein symptoms linger for months or even years.

How to Treat a Concussion

Concussion treatment may include saccade-based and vestibular therapy, dietary changes and supplementation, specific physical exercise, breathing techniques, and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy not only targets the anxiety, depression, and other emotional symptoms directly resulting from the head injury but also helps with the frustration, uncertainty, and stress associated with chronic health challenges.

Furthermore, there is a bidirectional link between concussion symptoms and previous emotional trauma. Emotional trauma - be it “big T” Trauma like sexual assault, “little t” trauma like a bad breakup, or chronic stress like caregiving for a loved one - can reduce an individual’s psychological resilience and increase their sensitivity to stress, thus rendering them more vulnerable to the cognitive and emotional aspects of a concussion.

Moreover, certain concussion symptoms mimic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress symptoms. A concussion may therefore increase any low-grade stress symptoms that may already be present or trigger a relapse of previous stress symptoms if the emotional trauma that initially caused those symptoms was not properly addressed. Additionally, individuals with a history of anxiety or depression are at a greater risk of experiencing these issues again if they get a concussion. Finally, people with PTSD are more likely to develop post-concussion syndrome. By treating current or previous emotional trauma, psychotherapy can potentially reduce the psychological symptoms associated with a concussion or post-concussion syndrome.

Experiencing a concussion or post-concussion syndrome can be overwhelming - but there is hope. Including psychotherapy in your integrative healthcare approach can help facilitate your recovery.