What is Trauma?
Trauma is a distressing or emotional reaction to an event. Medical trauma is simply a distressing or emotional reaction to a medical or health related event. Sometimes, these reactions can be so distressing or repeated exposure to the event can collectively become so distressing that it can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and severe uncontrollable anxiety. I have seen clients fight nightmares or being triggered with uncontrollable anxiety, never knowing that these symptoms are a result of trauma they have experienced.
What types of events can cause medical trauma?
- serious illness
- invasive treatments
- medical procedures
- physical restraint
- loss of control
- certain medications
- sense of being dehumanized
- unfamiliar environments, unknown faces
We tend to think of medical or health related environments as places where we are safe and are being healed, not traumatized. This is one of the reasons the concept and experience of medical trauma hasn’t been discussed until recently.
what are the symptoms of medical trauma?
- avoidance behavior
- intrusive memories
- intense emotions
- emotional numbing
- exaggerated startle response
Any of the experiences listed above can create such a high level of emotional duress that it can lead to these symptoms of traumatic stress after the event is over. Many factors can affect a person’s susceptibility to experience these symptoms including preexisting mental health difficulties, a person’s perception of their quality of care, their level of trust in the medical system and factors related to their treatment. Medical trauma can be easily missed due to the wide range of manifestations of symptoms and reluctance of a patient to disclose their symptoms out of lack of trust in the healthcare system.
What can i do about it?
There are many ways to go about treating trauma and reversing the effects it can have on you.
- Find a Trauma Therapist: The first step is seeing a professional so that you can get an assessment and an understanding of how pervasive your symptoms are and where you can feasibly start.
- Medications: If you are experiencing disruptive symptoms, you can reduce the most difficult symptoms with medications. Remember, medications cannot reverse a trauma reaction, it only treats the symptoms to put you in a better place to be able to work through your trauma experience appropriately.
- Treatment: There are several treatments such as Exposure Therapy, Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Group Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Hypnotherapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I have found great results using Exposure Therapy and Trauma Focused CBT in my own practice, but each person is different in what works best for them in their particular situation. As I discuss in the video, with CBT we identify triggers and thoughts around the trauma and attempt to restructure those thoughts and beliefs while providing guided exposure to the triggers if possible. Research has shown that avoiding a situation or trigger will only increase the anxiety response to that situation the next time a person encounters it. It is better to have controlled and planned exposures with a purpose and plan to overcome them. This has helped many clients change how they view their trauma experience and reduced symptoms allowing them to regain control over those triggers. Again, It is beneficial to see a therapist to have a treatment plan customized specifically for you.
- Track Progress: It is important throughout the process to track your symptoms so that you can notice changes or improvements. Celebrate your successes and adjust your treatment based on your own data and progress.
Amanda Pratt, MSW, LCSW
Imagine Life Therapy
Are you experiencing any of the symptoms listed above? Do you live in the state of Florida?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to both of these questions, I might be able to help you. Please fill out the contact form below to share your concerns with me – I have openings for both online sessions and in person at my office in St. Petersburg, FL.
You don’t have to suffer in silence.