Medical trauma is on the rise. This comes as no surprise when we consider that medical error is one of the top causes of death in the U.S. It can be traumatizing to be diagnosed with a serious illness or undergo a life-threatening injury. The treatments can be intensive and extreme. Overworked healthcare workers in understaffed facilities exacerbate the stress. In fact, medical practitioners are also susceptible to medical trauma.
Obviously, it is vital that safe and effective approaches exist for those struggling with this particular mental health issue. Before discussing therapy as a frontline treatment, let’s learn a little more about the disorder.
What Does Medical Trauma Look and Feel Like?
You’ll find that the symptoms of medical trauma mirror those of many other trauma-related conditions. These often include:
- Flashbacks, nightmares, and other intrusive thoughts
- Hyper-vigilance, easily startled
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Avoiding triggers, e.g. doctors, health care facilities, etc.
- Sleep disturbances
- Digestive problems
- Unexplained body aches and tension
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Thoughts of self-harm, death, dying, and suicide
Yes, PTSD is a Common Outcome
If the above list sounds like post-traumatic stress disorder, that’s because people with medical trauma often develop PTSD (along with depression, complicated grief, anxiety, and more). Studies find that as many as 6 out of 10 intensive care unit (ICU) survivors develop PTSD.
How Therapy Can Help You Cope With Medical Trauma
As painful and horrific as the traumatic memories are, the road to healing requires them to be processed and resolved. In other words, medical trauma survivors must not suppress their negative feelings. This is where therapy becomes indispensable. It’s the safe space people need to explore, accept, and address what they are feeling. Common therapeutic choices for medical trauma are:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Exposure Therapy
- Systematic Desensitization Therapy
- Somatic Experiencing
Regardless of the approach, your therapist will work with you toward many essential goals. Here is just a sampling of what they may look like:
Validating Your Experiences
An important step toward recovery is to accept and recognize that the trauma you feel is real and requires your full attention. We’re conditioned to trust medical professionals so it’s possible that you feel guilt or shame about what happened. In your therapy sessions, you can talk openly and explore freely.
Better Communication With Your Doctors
It’s likely that due to the traumatic events, you’re looking for a new medical team. To avoid a repeat of previous events, your therapist will work with you to enhance communication with them. A huge part of this work is taking back control by advocating for yourself and demanding respect.
Developing Powerful Self-Care Skills
Together you may try out self-loving options like:
- The basics: Make healthy eating choices (including the avoidance of alcohol and drugs). Maintain regular patterns. Engage in daily exercise and physical activity.
- Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: This is another “basic.” Mediation, deep breathing, staying present, and yoga are just some of the natural ways to feel in control of your mind and body.
- Getting more social: As mentioned above, isolation is a common problem for medical trauma survivors. With help from your therapist, this can be better managed. One option is joining a trauma support group. Such groups offer access to useful resources and steady contact with people who understand what you’re going through.
The Power of Therapy
An underrated role of therapy in the treatment of medical trauma is breaking a pattern. When you connect with a mental health professional and attain results, it reminds you that seeking help can be a positive experience. So, let’s connect soon to get things started with trauma therapy.