Epilepsy and the Family

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Epilepsy and the Family

About the author:  Gilbert Woo, MS, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and mental health director for the UCSF Epilepsy Center in San Francisco. He has been working with the epilepsy community since 2004.


Epilepsy and seizures cause stress for everyone involved—the person with epilepsy, as well as family members. Here, Gilbert Woo, a licensed marriage and family therapist and mental health director for the University of California, San Francisco, Epilepsy Center, answers questions about how to balance family dynamics to keep harmony in the household.


How does epilepsy affect families?

Whether it’s a child, spouse or partner, or an older parent who has the condition, epilepsy and seizures affect the whole family, and the major impact is stress. Seizures can happen at any time, and there’s no way to predict them. This can keep everyone on edge, hyperalert all the time, wondering when the next seizure is going to come. That brings a lot of stress to sibling relationships, those between parent and child, and the dynamics between partners and spouses.


What can people do to become more aware of stress?

I encourage patients and family members to check in with themselves. I ask them to write down or text or email themselves questions: “Am I taking care of myself?” “Are there things that I need to do right now to take better care of myself?” “How well is the epilepsy being managed?” And also, “Do I need help?”


What kind of help is out there, and how can people get connected?

First, if something unusual or upsetting is going on with a person’s epilepsy and the patient or someone in the family is concerned, they should check in with the patient’s doctor. Depression is common with epilepsy, but mood problems can be an issue for anyone in the family. Talk with a doctor if you feel your mood is getting out of control. Counseling, whether it’s individual, family or couples therapy, can help people communicate better. Check with your insurer to find out what your plan covers—most cover counseling in some way—and get connected with local counseling services.


How can couples therapy help?

Couples counseling focuses on improving communication. Sometimes intimacy becomes an issue, as medication side effects and stress can disrupt a couple’s emotional connection. Therapy helps, encouraging self-care for the couple—things like a quick weekend getaway or a monthly date—so that both partners are regularly reminding themselves of the pleasures of the relationship and are taking care of themselves emotionally.


What about social support?

Social support can help tremendously because it lets people know that whatever they’re going through with their epilepsy or families, they’re not alone. Go online to epilepsyadvocate.com, where you can connect with local resources. There are many resources as well as community and networking events that people can take part in as a family, such as annual epilepsy walks and other social activities.


Final thoughts?

Even if you or someone in your family has epilepsy, you can have a normal, active and happy life just like everyone else. The key is getting the support you need.



Originally printed in EpilepsyAdvocate, Fall 2015

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