Module 12: Working with Families after Traumatic injury:
                               An Introduction

12.0 Aims


Drawing upon a strength-based approach, this module provides staff members with an introduction to working with families after traumatic injury.


At the end of this session participants should be able to:

  • Outline why family is important
  • List typical areas of adjustment for family members following a traumatic injury
  • Utilise key principles of working with families
  • Develop knowledge of 5 principles of working with families
  • Build professional skills in working with families, including:

    o Collaborating and partnering with families
    o Liaising with families as a system and managing conflict
    o Understanding and responding to family reactions
    o Treating families with respect
    o Providing positive support to families using a strengths-based approach

  • Know when to ask for specialist help.


Within a rehabilitation or community setting it is often the person with the injury who is the sole focus of treatment, rehabilitation, and discharge planning. However, the importance of family members after traumatic injury has been widely acknowledged (Elliott, Shewchuk, & Richards, 2001; Robinson-Whelen & Rintala, 2003).

Family members provide emotional, practical and social support, and influence rehabilitation and community outcomes. They also face many challenges themselves. The whole family system is put under stress when a relative sustains a traumatic injury.

The stepping stone to better meeting the needs of family members is by creating greater understanding among staff about the experiences and needs of families and to build upon existing staff skills to engage with families using a strengths-based approach. This will lead to a better inclusion of the family in decision-making, greater respect for family members, and an ability to meet the needs of family members using a positive and supportive approach.

The self-study module

This module has been designed to provide some basic information about working with families, for health practitioners, support workers, case managers, and others working in the area of traumatic injury. A key theme is working with families from a strength-based approach.

Most of the material is relevant for staff working in either spinal cord injury (SCI) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). It has been established that family members of people with SCI and family members of people with TBI share many common challenges (Alfano, Neilson, & Fink, 1994).  It is also known that a person who sustains physical injuries may also sustain cognitive impairment, and that the same is true the other way around.  Some specific material is provided for both TBI and SCI.

Videos of family member interviews

A family member from each of three families with a member with a traumatic injury have been interviewed and video clips from these interviews are throughout the module.

Angela: There are 2 short video clips (1 to 2 minutes) and one longer clip (6minutes)

Cheryl: There are 7 short video clips (1 to 2 minutes)

Jonathan and his mother: There are two video clips (7 minutes and 3 minutes).

We recommend you view all the video clips as they give an immediate feel for the experiences of family members.

The importance of the contribution of these people and their willingness to share their experiences so that others might learn to work with people with traumatic injury is acknowledged with deep gratitude by all the people who have worked on this module and associated learning materials.

Video in the tabs indicates a video is included with the content of the tab.

Self-test and Pre & Post Test questions

There are self-test questions throughout the module. A Q in the tabs indicates self-test questions are included with the content of the tab.

There is a Pre-Test and a Post-Test.

If you are completing the module for a workplace you can have the Pre-Test and Post-Test questions and your answers emailed to you.


Compiled by:
Grahame Simpson,
Kate Jones,
Daniella Pfeiffer,
Jackie Francis,
Helen Oosthuizen,
Denise Young,
Candice Unger