An Interview with Colleen Butler: Who Are the Brain Navigators and what do they do?
Michael F. Shaughnessy –
1) Colleen, what is your exact title and what would you say you do a “Brain Navigators”?
I am the Director of Brain Navigators. At Brain Navigators we navigate an Acquired Brain Injured (ABI) person back to living a life that is once again fulfilling and rewarding to the individual and their family.
Our goal is to provide individualized recovery packages of practical tools and solutions for the concussed.
We provide education for concussions for prevention and workshops for recovering from an ABI. We work both in a group setting and one on one with ABI’s and their families.
2) What kinds of services do you offer?
Of course we do the training and education of what a concussion is and the symptoms, at all levels from the medical profession, employers, caregivers, concussed, sport teams. We work one on one to specifically deal with an individual’s needs, restructuring their lives to be productive once again. Knowledge is power! This year we are offering 3-5 day retreats for the concussed providing practical solutions and tools for recovery.
3) Even with a minor concussion, some people suffer or have some strange
symptoms- can you describe some?
The symptoms vary as to where the blow to the head actually occurred and the velocity of the hit will determine each person’s disability.
Each sport has a different area of the brain which is often unique to that individual sport for example. The brain is 3 pounds of a Jell-O type mass that when hit will slide into the hard bone structure, “the skull” which protects the brain. For example, if I fell forward my brain would hit the front inside of my skull and slide back with momentum the back part of my skull most likely affecting the motor skills as well as the front which is emotions.
Symptoms may be: sleep disorders, emotional outburst, speech, i.e. vocabulary, not being able to find the right words, stuttering or talking too much, coordination and movement, depression, unable to make a decision etc.
Our brains are our motherboard of our computer, anything which we may see, think, feel, touch or do can be affected with a concussion.
4) What are some of the emotional or social changes you see in people who have had a head injury?
Irritability, frustration, depression, withdrawing from society and friends. You are often on an emotional roller coaster where crying when someone greets, or feeling numb or fluctuating from happy to sad.
It is really frustrating when you used to be able to do something and after the concussion it becomes almost impossible to do that same task, it is embarrassing. Because the brain has to work so hard to get the messages flowing through the brains’ circuits the feeling of being overwhelmed and tired is a reality.
5) What are some of the behavioral changes often observed in individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury ?
The behavioral changes are numerous and easily justified as “they are going through a rough time”, or the behaviour changed are confused with adolescence, change of life or menopausal. It is hard and frustrating on the journey of recovery from a head injury, as many things you know have now to be relearnt and it is the expectation of other people that often hurts especially if there is not any obvious physical impairment. It is not a fun place to be!
The best thing that does happen with an acquired brain injury is that the individuals are often far more empathetic, compassionate and in tune with their environment.
Much of society has become disassociated with their environment, nature and life is valued much more by the survivors.
People have been known to do very out of character experiences for example: “R” took all of her money and bought herself a lovely charm bracelet, then went back to the store and bought all the charms she could for the bracelet.
What is so out of character is that R had never bought a piece of jewellery for themselves in their lifetime, R spent all of their rent, food and transport money for the month. This was 100%out of character for this budget minded single mother.
“S” paid the same bill three times, luckily it was to a major corporation so it would remain as a credit,…
“T” was dating a teenage child younger than their own children and really did
not think there was anything wrong with the scenario, T was getting
frustrated with people asking if this was their child… T did not see what
all the fuss was about or anything wrong with the situation… then T woke
up one day and realized this was not in line with their belief system and it
The reactions can be many as boundaries are broken in the shaking up of the
6) In your mind, what are the main differences between open and closed head
An open head injury often gets more medical attention as you can see the
wound where a closed head injury diagnosis is missed in a very high
proportion of the time as there are no tests that we can use that will
identify a head Injury with 100 % accuracy.
7) Obviously, you and I know that a person who has had a severe head injury
has some limitations- how do you help a spouse deal with those difficulties?
A brain injury affects the whole family. Patience, is the key and taking
time out for “you” the caregiver is critical. The exercises I have in my
book Concussion Recovery:
Rebuilding the Injured Brain will also help the caregiver if they do them
together. There is no set time for recovery, embrace the small steps, it is
a journey. With the right set of tools recovery is possible.
We are soon to have many of our military return with various concussions
and head trauma- what services do you specifically have for them?
Read and follow my book! There are many things which can be done simply at
home, you do not need large facilities, stay off the drugs. It is better to
fight your way through the recovery than to get all bent out on the drugs.
Your brain is working hard to rebuild for you. If you are depressed exercise
first thing in the morning to raise your serotonin levels for the day, eat
well, including supplements, and get a support group in your area going. The
support group could be an active group that goes for hikes and walks as well
as for emotional support.
9) Do you have a web site and what would be found there?
www.BrainNavigators.com is the website, the site explains about who we are,
what we do, workshops, sport concussion, links etc.
10) Terminology always seems to be problematic- do you refer to the people
you see as clients or patients?
I refer to them as clients as they include both the injured, family members,
caregivers, employers and many others. They are simply people going through
a tough time that was most likely not their first choice of being where they
10) What have I neglected to ask ?
You have done a very good job.
The cost on the system is very high. The true cost of a brain injury is not known, often a brain injury is grouped into mental illness, penal system or the demand on social services as they are unable to keep a job. If left unaddressed or diagnosed improperly which many concussions are the cost are astronomical, putting a tremendous strain on society.
There is a high recovery if the caregivers and individuals know they will get better. There is a transition of thinking we are forced into from “doing” to “feeling” … we are no longer robots within the system. People need to seek out others that have had an ABI so they understand what they are going through.
Often the medical professional will cubbyhole, prescribe, or cut and remove,
that is their training, very few understand what it is like to live through his trauma. Too often the symptoms are treated and not the cause. If not treated right the ABI has a few choices if
not supported well, checking out of society, suicide, living under a bridge or addicted to something not healthy. Recovery must be looked at as making lemonade rather than wallowing in lemons.
With an ABI/TBI/Concussion we are able to instantly break down barriers of belief and rebuild and mould our brains thinking. The brain is an incredible organ and can come back we just need to be active
in retraining the brain.
See the article in its orginal page here. http://educationviews.org/2012/06/06/an-interview-with-colleen-butler-who-are-the-brain-navigators-and-what-do-they-do/
About Michael Shaughnessy EducationViews Senior Columnist
Dr. Shaughnessy Eastern New Mexico University Portales, New Mexico is currently Professor in Educational Studies and is a Consulting Editor for Gifted Education International and Educational Psychology Review. In addition, he writes for EducationViews.org and the International Journal of Theory and Research in Education. He has taught students with mental retardation, learning disabilities and gifted. He is on the Governor’s Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council and the Gifted Education Advisory Board in New Mexico. He is also a school psychologist and conducts in-services and workshops on various topics.