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The Importance of Collaboration

CollaborationA family friend was interested in learning about neurological rehabilitation.  What do you do with someone who suffers a head injury?  Even minor head injuries can result in increased irritability, memory problems, difficulty with judgment, impulse control… Of course, the list would be long because the brain is so complex. In a way, head injury is like dropping a computer onto the floor.  Anyway, my friend wanted to see what a head injured person looked like so I dug out a dusty, old videotape that I had from a continuing education course I had taken long ago.  What I found was exciting!

The videotape featured an in-house program for individuals with severe brain injury.  Not only that, these clients were “bad dudes.” In other words, even before they suffered a brain injury, they had engaged in all kinds of high-risk behaviors and were generally impulsive, hot-tempered,  erratic,and frequently in trouble with the law. In addition, most head injuries involve some damage to the pre-frontal cortex which modulates these behaviors in the first place.   In traditional therapy, it was thought that since the pre-frontal cortex was damaged, rigid, external structure was needed to bring about cooperative behavior.   However, all of the rules and restrictions actually made these guys worse.  Why?  The missing element was collaboration.

For example,  one man refused to eat.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t hungry, but he had trouble initiating behavior (In fact, it can often take a brain injured client an entire day to get into the shower despite the fact that he knows he needs one badly).  Forcing this man to go to the dining hall only resulted in combative behavior. However, through active collaboration with the patient,  a solution was found.  The therapist, the patient, and 3 of his peers decided on the plan of action.  Would you like someone to come and get you to eat?  Who? What time should he come?  What should he do if you refuse to come?  All of this seems so simple but in example after example, the power of collaborative solutions was demonstrated even with very impaired, very bad dudes!

Collaboration works because it makes the client do some of the work. The brain builds neural connections in response to whatever stimuli it encounters.  If someone has to actively process a problem and come up with solutions, not only is that person more inclined to act on that solution because he came up with it, he will also gain competency for further problems he might encounter.  Whether the situation is coaching, parenting, counseling, or solving a conflict, the more active someone is in finding a solution, the more likely it is that they will follow through and also learn.   The role of the supporting party is to provide options, propose strategies, and offer guidance in evaluating the solution set.  Foisting rigid structures and forcing someone to see the matter your way do little to ensure compliance or good judgment the next time around.

The rediscovery of this videotape was a great find for me! What was particularly rewarding  was the notion that in all of the roles I have played in life, this has been one of my “bread and butter” strategies.  As a parent,  speech pathologist/cognitive specialist and now a life coach,  the power of collaboration has been a common thread.  Sometimes you want to cringe when it doesn’t go smoothly at first but my position is that you end up with a more resilient improvement in the end.  My role as a coach is to provide support and let the brain do it’s work!

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