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Unpacking Medical Trauma & Coping Mechanisms

If my baby is fine, why am I exhibiting PTSD symptoms?


If your baby is in an intensive care unit, then you may be traumatized as a result of not being able to help or save them. This lack of control can lead to emotional distress, which can ultimately result in trauma around medical settings. This is professionally defined as medical trauma.


A woman laying in a hospital bed.


How Medical Trauma Can Cause Complications


The reason that medical trauma is so hard is that you have to keep going back to a setting where you had trauma. For example, if you’ve experienced trauma as a result of a natural disaster, you don’t have to go back there. On the other hand, it’s hard to avoid a doctor’s office, especially if you need to schedule follow up appointments. 


Why is Medical Trauma Overlooked?


Medical settings are considered inherently safe - a place of healing and wellness. We’re supposed to trust nurses and doctors. We go to the doctor or the hospital to get better. A bad experience in these environments can prime you to develop this type of trauma. This can lead to a distrust of doctors or other healthcare professionals. 


When people feel unsafe, our brains overemphasize the threat and the negative. Safety is the antithesis to threat. The big question you need to ask yourself is: What do you need to make you feel safe in an environment that feels unsafe? 


Ways to Cope With Medical Trauma


  • Examine your reactions from medical settings. In therapy, you’ll discover your triggers and explore ways to handle it. 

  • Find providers you trust, and establish that healthcare providers have your care and health in mind. 

  • Keeping good documentation about what’s happened to you beforehand

  • Having someone else attend appointments with you to help advocate with you and act as a bridge between you and the healthcare provider. 

  • Figure out what you need to surround yourself with so you let your guard then. You’ll be able to work through this in therapy. 


Therapy can recognize and address your feelings. EMDR therapy in particular can be a useful modality by helping you re-process settings and responses. Read about EMDR’s impact in healing medical trauma. 


Contact Noticing Growth for professional medical trauma therapy from a licensed therapist in Sacramento, California by calling 916-426-9340 or emailing meghann@noticinggrowth.com.

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