Expressing Emotions Following ABI

In our blog  earlier this week, the use of a feeling pie chart was described briefly. In most of the groups for ABI that I am currently running, we start with a feeling “check-in”. This is really important in a group setting as it helps for others to know what emotions other members are coming with. This can help establish rapport and cohesion in the group as members can support one another through challenging times and celebrate each other’s’ victories.

Expressing emotions following ABI can be a challenge due to survivors having trouble with word-finding and self-evaluation. These types of difficulties can lead to miscommunications. Sometimes, a survivor may not be able to identify what emotion he or she is feeling. Furthermore, if an idea of what emotion is being experienced is determined, one might have difficulty finding the word to express it.


I have found that use of specific tools that outline general feeling words (i.e. fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise) can help the survivor identify the “area” that his or her feeling lives. Once the “area” is figured out, the survivor can then use the tool to determine the more specific emotion that is underlying the general one (e.g. happy à proud à confident). I have found that there are many of these sorts of tools available. The one that works best for me is the feeling wheel. Though intended for writers, I find that clients with word-finding difficulty benefit immensely from using this for expressing emotions following ABI.


Our group members love the circular format of this tool at it allows them to move from general words to more specific words. It is simple and easy to use once the members are shown how it works. Feel free to adapt this tool for other uses whether for writing in school or work settings, or for expressing yourself verbally. I think it has applications for social work or psychotherapy as well – particularly if you are working with clients who have trouble connecting with their emotions or expressing themselves.

We offer groups for our own clients as well as those working with SLPs from other agencies. Please click here for more information on our communication groups for people who have survived ABI.

Bobi Tychynski Shimoda is a Speech-Language Pathologist with more than a decade of experience working with neurological communication and swallowing disorders. She has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehab, acute care, community, and private practise. She is highly skilled in assessment, and innovative treatment approaches.