Is Medical Trauma The Same As PTSD?
The conversation around trauma has evolved a lot in the last few decades. It’s come to include not just large trauma (e.g. war, assault, sexual abuse) but smaller traumas that are no less impactful or important (e.g. bullying, neglect, miscarriage). Now the conversation has come to look at medical trauma. Medical trauma refers to the emotional and physical responses to pain, injury, serious illness, medical procedures and frightening treatment experiences.
Experiencing medically traumatic events (including diagnoses) does not mean that you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, many people who experience trauma do not experience the unique set of symptoms that make up PTSD. Rather, they may have feelings of depression, anxiety or burn-out. Truly, the range of reactions to medical trauma is as wide and diverse as the people who experience it.
With this in mind, no matter your response to your medical history you have a right to take care of yourself. At Guided Wellness Counseling we’ve seen our clients find great relief with EMDR therapy. In addition to their therapeutic work they also acquire a skill set that helps them navigate the ups and downs of the illnesses, challenges and health care routine. Let’s jump in and take a look at these four essential skills that may help you begin to cope better.
Skill #1: Learn How To Talk About Your Medical Trauma
Medical trauma can be experienced as a disenfranchised trauma. A disenfranchised trauma is grief that either is not, or cannot be, openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly supported. Because our medical lives often happen in the privacy of our homes or doctor’s offices it can feel difficult to share.
Socially, other people just don’t realize how horrible an experience can be until they or someone they love goes through it. Or, if the culture does not value what you lost, they are less likely to value the loss of it.
For example, a dear friend at Guided Wellness Counseling lost her natural teeth due to chemo treatments in her 20’s. For decades she experienced shame, embarrassment and a fear of dental treatments. Many around her told her it was no big deal – “It’s just teeth – get dentures!” they told her. Nevertheless, she struggled with fear that others would perceive her as dirty or unclean if she told them her teeth had fallen out. Her trauma further led to her seeking routine dental care to the point of nearly harming herself.
Skill #2: Acknowledge And Make Space For Grief And Confusion
In addition to others’ perceptions of your trauma, you too may be confused about your experience. A common way this shows up for women is believing you don’t “deserve” to grieve your experience. It’s not uncommon for people living with medical trauma to ask themselves:
- “How can I grieve when I survived?”
- “How can I grieve when others went through the same thing with such worse results?” ● “How can I grieve for something I never had.”
- “Should I just be grateful a treatment exists?”
- “I consented to the treatment – am I allowed to be angry about side effects?”
These losses and struggles are real and can feel devastating. In the case of life threatening medical trauma you may have survived, but the process was/is still traumatizing.
For medical trauma it might look like a cancer survivor needing to grieve and process the fact that for the last six months they thought they were going to die. And as grateful as they are that they didn’t, staring death in the face at all, let alone for that long, left some damage.
Step 3: Work To Reconnect To Your Body After Medical Trauma
Perhaps especially for women, it’s critical to get back in touch or in better touch with your body. It is a common coping skill to distance yourself from difficult and painful experiences. When the difficulty and pain is associated with your body, it follows that we often disassociate from our own bodies and the sensations they provide.
Participating in activities like yoga, Thai Chi, Qigong gong, and yoga (even basic stretching in your living room) is a great way to reconnect with your body. These practices do not need to be done for any other reasons than figuring out how it feels to move within your own body. Set aside goals for fitness, weight loss or returning to the body you had before the medical interventions. Focusing on breathwork, which is a part of these exercises, can support you in creating a safe, respectful, perhaps even pleasurable mind-body connection. It also teaches your nervous system to relax and regulate during moments of stress.
Step #4: Embrace Regular Peer Support And Content
We highly recommend that you find a support group. It can be easy to fall into an echo chamber in our own minds. When we don’t say something out loud and/or to another person it can be easy not to notice any holes in our logic or recognize the impact of our feelings. When we say it out loud, we hear ourselves. Other people hear us and can help us find a more accurate understanding or help us face and manage our feelings.
Finding a support group of people who understand what you went through because they’ve been there is a great way to help process any trauma. Additionally, if you find yourself at the beginning of a medical intervention, support groups can be a great way to educate yourself,
create lists of questions for your provider, have realistic expectations / outcomes and plan for recovery.
But let us also offer these two tips: find the right support group for you and be mindful of what you consume. If you find a support group on social media and it’s full of horror stories or lacks a moderator you do not need to stay. In the age of social media there are dozens if not hundreds of groups for you to choose from. There is no need to subject yourself to any online or in-person community that feels unsupportive.
With this in mind, be mindful of the content you consume. While it’s important to be realistic about your medical future you also have a right to sign-off, turn off notifications or skip a week if it feels too overwhelming, fear inducing or if it’s having a negative impact on your mindset.
Women Can Heal From Medical Trauma With Therapy
St. George UT |84790
In moments and experiences of medical trauma, it’s crucial to recognize the strength within you and take proactive steps towards healing. You are not alone, and there is support available to guide you through this journey. Consider exploring Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy—an empowering method that can help you navigate the emotional aftermath of medical experiences.
Your path to healing begins with a single step, and Guided Wellness Counseling is here to walk beside you. Reach out for your free consultation and take that courageous leap toward reclaiming your well-being. Remember, your resilience is your greatest asset, and there is hope for a brighter, healthier tomorrow. Our team of licensed therapists is here for you every step of the way.