Peer Mentoring and Brain Injury

Approximately one year ago, the Head Injury Association began a peer mentoring program. The purpose of the program is to assist families and individuals who have sustained a brain injury cope with the complexities and impact of this disability from acute care through community re-integration.

The Peer Mentoring Program provides information, education, support and guidance. It is unique because it offers the experience of an individual who is a “veteran” of the brain injury experience (who is often referred to as the mentor) help an individual with a brain injury or the family members (often named the mentee/partner) cope with this life-altering experience.

Brain Injury often results in long-term ramifications for the individual. Across the lifespan, a brain injury often leads to a wide range of functional changes affecting thinking, language, learning, emotions, behavior and sensations. An injury to the brain often results in problems with problem solving, initiation, judgment, impulse control, social behavior and insight. These are abilities that are needed to succeed in one’s vocation and throughout life. A brain injury can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Many who survive a brain injury often turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms due to the lack of understanding of the ramifications of the brain injury.

Individuals with a brain injury or their family members seek support for number of reasons including the need to talk with someone who shares the same experience, the need for information about brain injury, a lack of knowledge of community resources , the need for emotional support, encouragement, and coping strategies. They also want to decrease their sense of social isolation. A peer mentor can help in these areas by sharing their experiences, offering suggestions and information as well as acting as an advocate during both the early and later phases of adjustment to the disability. A mentor can assist either the individual with a brain injury or family members.

Mentors are recruited through an application process that is reviewed by professionals and lay people that are active in the Head Injury Association. Once a mentor is accepted they are trained through the mentoring partnership program and provided additional support with quarterly meetings.

Mentors are trained to be good listeners. They are encouraged to listen for feelings beneath words, to keep an open mind, to be honest and non-judgmental. They are taught to stay in “synch” with their partner.
A mentor facilitates trust, openness and empathy, accepts people as they are, provides support and encouragement to take positive actions, respects confidentiality and realizes that not all problems can be fixed.

The individual with a brain injury or family members can make application to the Head Injury Association to be paired with a mentor. The application process is very similar to the mentor’s. There is no expense to either party. The Association covers the costs of the peer mentoring program.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor or in having an experienced guide and on-going support please contact the Head Injury Association of North Dakota by calling the toll free number of 877.525.2724.

Simonson is executive director of the Open Door Center, a Valley City-based nonprofit that provides a range of services to people with disabilities.