Jason A.D. Smith, Ph.D. Answers Questions On: Cognitive Rehabilitation
What do rehabilitation psychologists do?
Rehabilitation psychologists specialize in assessing the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues that can be associated with a broad array of medical conditions. We strive to improve patients’ lives by integrating the psychosocial aspects of their circumstances with their unique medical and neuropsychological needs.
Rehabilitation psychologists may conduct neuropsychological assessments, which can identify specific cognitive areas that can be treated with human and computer-assisted rehabilitation programs, often times through an interdisciplinary approach. We often work very closely with other professional disciplines such as speech and occupational therapy. These treatments help optimize patients’ abilities and improve their sense of mastery as they adapt to their current physical and cognitive functioning.
Our assessments and recommendations also help our physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians) consider treatment approaches that may improve our patients’ conditions.
Does cognitive rehabilitation address behavioral, personality, and emotional issues?
Cognitive, behavioral, personality, and emotional issues go hand in hand. All can be associated with brain injuries, strokes, and neurological disease, as well as complicated medical conditions.
Changes in cognitive abilities can also have a devastating impact on one’s sense of self and ability to manage common daily living activities. Because independence is often reduced, many patients must learn to rely on help.
The care our multidisciplinary team provides can result in both improved cognitive and physical performance, and – often more importantly – a new, integrated sense of self.
My treatment can also include short-term, solutions-focused psychotherapy, also referred to as “talk therapy.” We do this work directly with patients, families, and/or caregivers.
How long are rehabilitation psychologists involved in patient care?
We may see patients for only a few sessions to address a particular problem, or we may see them at various times throughout the course of their lives as their rehabilitation needs evolve.
Rehabilitation psychologists are often involved early on in the evaluation and care of patients with serious injuries and illnesses. We work with a team of other specialists to plan multidisciplinary treatment.
For instance, we may see patients (and their families) who are minimally conscious in the ICU, those emerging from post-traumatic amnesia associated with traumatic brain injury, or patients in the acute stages of recovery from a recent stroke.
We use our knowledge of the neuropsychological consequences of illnesses to educate and counsel families and caregivers, who may be the initial focus of treatment. Helping these key people understand and prepare for the specific challenges associated with certain medical conditions – often neurological in nature – improves long-term outcomes.
In the acute stages of an illness or injury, we also evaluate, counsel, and treat inpatients who are able to participate. Our goal is to identify and address barriers to patient participation during their inpatient rehabilitation and to establish a continuity of care that can begin in the inpatient unit and seamlessly be initiated in our outpatient clinics, which are a part of the clinical mission of the O’Donnell Brain Institute.
We also educate our patients and families to recognize needs as they arise and to return to us before problems escalate. Annual checkups are often recommended to help prevent people from “falling through the cracks,” which can especially be an issue for people who live in remote or rural areas.