Counseling for Survivors of Medical Trauma

at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

Counseling for Survivors of Medical Trauma
In Grand Rapids, MI and West Michigan At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, MI

What is Medical Trauma?

Many people often overlook the topic of medical trauma. Yet, for a significant number of people, the distress caused by healthcare encounters is genuine and deeply impactful.

Medical trauma refers to the emotional or psychological distress resulting from medical experiences perceived as traumatic. This might be due to a shocking diagnosis, invasive procedures, experiencing medical mistakes, or even having a difficult childbirth.

While it’s relatively easy to identify trauma that develops as a result of events like accidents or abusive situations, sometimes it emerges from places we least expect: the very institutions and professionals we trust to heal us.

Unfortunately, unattended medical trauma can lead to avoiding crucial care, heightened anxiety, or mistrust in healthcare. Even more — studies show that can lead to mental health conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, or complicated grief (Hall & Hall, 2013).

Considering this, seeking counseling can be a transformative step as it offers a safe space to process, heal, and reclaim trust in your healthcare journey.

What Causes Medical Trauma?

Even though doctors and nurses usually aim to help, sometimes things happen in healthcare that can leave us feeling hurt or upset. This kind of hurt is often called medical trauma. It can pop up when things don’t go as planned or when we’re already feeling vulnerable.

Here are the most common situations or circumstances that might cause medical trauma:

  • Traumatic Birth – Childbirth is a profound experience. But when it doesn’t go as planned, like with emergency interventions or complications, it can leave lasting emotional scars on both the mother and the family. Considering this, it’s not surprising that as many as 45% of new mothers reported experiencing traumatic childbirth (Beck et al., 2018).
  • Receiving Poor Treatment – Feeling like you weren’t listened to, rushed, or not given the best care can also be perceived as a traumatic experience. When patients are left in the dark or feel dismissed, the uncertainty and lack of clarity amplify their anxiety. As a result, this heightened stress, can lead to medical trauma
  • Intensive Care Unit (ICU) – Being in the ICU or seeing a loved one there is intense. The machines, unfamiliar surroundings, and serious nature of illnesses can be overwhelming. Surprisingly, research shows that 1 in every 5 adult critical care survivors develops medical trauma (Righy et al., 2019).
  • Cancer – A cancer diagnosis and its treatments are tough. The uncertainty, the treatments, and the fear of recurrence can be sources of trauma. According to NIH, patients often suffer from PTSD symptoms after the diagnosis or in the process of treatment.
  • COVID-19 – This global pandemic has affected us in many ways. From getting sick, worrying about loved ones, or even just the general stress, it’s been a lot to handle. These negative feelings can still trigger painful memories.

Signs and Symptoms of Medical Trauma

Medical trauma can manifest in various ways. Often, the symptoms may look similar to the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, medical trauma has its unique triggers and may not encompass all PTSD symptoms.

Here are some common signs and symptoms of medical trauma:

  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Sleep disturbances (such as insomnia or nightmares)
  • Changes in appetite or eating habits
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or despair
  • Intense anger or irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness
  • Avoidance of medical settings or professionals
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or activities once enjoyed
  • Constantly reliving the traumatic medical event
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Overwhelming fears about one’s health

Keep in mind that these symptoms are not exclusive to medical trauma and could be indicative of other underlying mental health issues. Do NOT self diagnose yourself with medical trauma. Please talk to a licensed therapist and/or a Doctor. Please make sure you are cleared by a doctor to ensure that there are not underlying health conditions.

Mental Health Effects of Medical Trauma

Facing trauma due to medical situations, whether it’s through procedures, illnesses, or prolonged hospital stays, isn’t just about the immediate physical outcomes. These events can also lead to emotional and mental challenges that might turn into mental health disorders over time.

This means that even when the primary medical concern is resolved, the associated trauma can continue to exist.

People who experience medical trauma are at increased risk of developing the following mental health disorders:

  • PTSD – Beyond just recalling the traumatic medical event, individuals might find themselves trapped in its replay, experiencing distressing flashbacks.
  • Heightened anxiety – This can manifest as excessive worry about health or an intensified reaction to minor medical issues.
  • Depression – Persistent sadness, hopelessness, or a feeling of being overwhelmed post-medical experiences are also common signs.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms – These are physical manifestations driven more by emotional distress and unresolved traumatic experiences than clear medical causes. The science is now clear: The body does keep the score.

How Counseling Can Help Survivors Process and Cope

If you’ve ever felt trapped by the weight of your medical experiences, struggling to understand and cope, then you need to know that counseling might be the most optimal solution. The reason is that therapy offers a secure environment to explore and unpack those negative memories and feelings.

With a trained therapist, you get the chance to dive deep into your trauma, not to relive it, but to understand, confront, and eventually master it.

Empirical findings have demonstrated the effectiveness of counseling for individuals who struggle with medical trauma. For instance, a 2022 systematic review indicated the potential benefits of therapy, particularly trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral and cognitive therapies. The findings showed that behavioral interventions could be an effective form of treatment for individuals facing medical trauma (Gimigliano et al., 2022).

Based on the studies, some potential benefits of therapy include:

  • Improved Emotional Regulation – Counseling can equip individuals with adaptive strategies to manage and regulate overwhelming emotions that stem from their medical experiences. According to a 2022 study, a trauma-informed CBT-based intervention is associated with improved emotion regulation (Dumornay et al., 2022).
  • More Effective Coping Mechanisms – A trained therapist can introduce plenty of effective coping strategies tailored to each person’s unique trauma. For example, problem solving, pausing before reacting, or being mindful in the moment are some of the strategies that can make it easier to navigate daily life.
  • Strengthened resilience – Therapy sessions can help build resilience. This ensures that future medical experiences are met with a more grounded and balanced approach.
  • Restoration of trust – For many, medical trauma can lead to a profound mistrust of healthcare systems. Through therapy, one can rebuild this trust and feel more at ease with medical professionals. And also, you can learn to be an advocate for yourself and others in future medical situations.

Trauma-Informed Approach

A trauma-informed approach is one of the most effective methodologies in the counseling sphere, especially for survivors of medical trauma. Instead of simply identifying trauma, this method integrates an understanding of trauma throughout the entire therapeutic process.

A 2023 systematic review highlighted the effectiveness of trauma-informed care, showing that trauma-informed interventions effectively reduced symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety  (Han et al., 2021).

At Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids, our trauma-informed care emphasizes:

  • Building trust and transparency with every session.
  • Prioritizing emotional and physical safety.
  • Actively seeking to avoid re-traumatization.
  • Respecting the cultural and individual nuances of trauma.

For survivors of medical trauma, our trauma-informed perspective provides a compassionate pathway toward healing and resilience.

The Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

At the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids, our dedicated counselors are deeply trained in understanding how trauma affects both the brain and body. We recognize the profound influence trauma has on one’s daily life and relationships and provide specialized interventions like EMDR Therapy, Somatic Experiencing Therapy, and Trauma-Focused CBT with a holistic, person-centered approach.

Our goal is to provide more than just relief — to offer transformative healing. Therefore, we aim to restore not just the mind, but the physical well-being of every individual who needs our help.

So, if you feel weighed down by past traumas, or if traditional therapies haven’t delivered the relief you seek, it might be time for a change. Let our licensed practitioners help you navigate your journey to recovery and reclaim the peace and happiness you deserve.

Therapists For Counseling for Survivors of Medical Trauma

Katerina Guerrero

Empowering Your Journey: Culturally Inclusive, Integrative Therapy for Healing and Growth

Katy Jaramillo

Counseling and Art Therapy for Adults and Teens: Empowerment and Healing from Medical and Neurological Trauma + Existential Concerns

Caley Weisgerber

Compassionate and Empowering Therapy for Deep Healing

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