Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Social Work

First Advisor

Andrew Quinn


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death and disability. Of these injuries, severe TBI (STBI) causes the most profound and long-term disabilities. The experience of STBI has been shown to affect the entire family. Social work professionals need to be aware of the experience of STBI and must be prepared support families through this trauma. The objective in this research was to explore how families experience STBI through the lens of family resilience. A mixed method approach, focused predominantly on the qualitative, was used to draw out the experience of five families wherein a child sustained an STBI.

The research discovered through data analysis of family interviews eight categories of the family experience of STBI. Families experience STBI as: a long road and a rollercoaster of emotions wherein isolation, exhaustion, grief intermingle, and wherein navigating the medical system and wrestling with unknowns are constant demands. The research revealed eleven categories of how families experience resilience through STBI. Families experienced resilience by accepting the reality of the injury while also acknowledging their grief of loss, allowing family members to react uniquely, incorporating some normal back into their family life, laughing together, believe and investing in recovery, celebrating small victories, believing in who s/he was, connecting with others, receiving support from others, engaging in spirituality, and seeking meaning beyond existence. In addition, families specifically wanted social workers to know: how grateful they were for their help, how important hope was for families, how helpful it was when the whole family received care, and how valuable clear information and direct resources were.

These findings were supported by the quantitative data, by participant feedback, and by comparison to family resilience framework (Walsh, 1998). These discoveries can better prepare social work practitioners to identify and build on family resilience as families move through the unique trauma of STBI.