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The Impact of Negative Healthcare Experiences on Trauma Survivors

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers

Negative healthcare experiences can seriously impact trauma survivors, leading to a profoundly dehumanizing experience. These experiences can cause trauma survivors to disconnect from health care, creating further isolation and distress while increasing the activation of their trauma symptoms and responses. Negative healthcare experiences only reinforce the trauma belief in the patient that people in positions of power and authority, like their prior abusers, are a threat and dangerous to them. Trauma-informed health care is essential in helping to reduce the impact of negative experiences and helping these individuals re-engage with health care services with the awareness of the need to feel safe, seen, heard, and held emotionally throughout the experience. In this blog post, we will explore how negative healthcare experiences push trauma survivors into further isolation and disconnection and what trauma-informed healthcare can do to help.

The Importance of Recognizing Patient Trauma in Healthcare Settings

Recognizing patient trauma in healthcare settings is crucial for providing effective and compassionate care. Trauma-informed practices acknowledge the impact of trauma on a person's physical and emotional well-being and strive to create a safe and supportive environment for healing.

By understanding the unique needs and challenges that trauma survivors face, healthcare providers can tailor their approach to meet those needs. This includes being mindful of potential triggers, using trauma-informed language, and creating a sense of safety and trust. When trauma survivors feel seen, heard, and validated, they are more likely to engage in their healthcare and experience positive outcomes.

Moreover, recognizing trauma symptoms and features can also benefit healthcare providers and staff. It can reduce the risk of provider burnout and secondary traumatic stress by fostering a culture of empathy and understanding. When trained in trauma-informed care, providers can feel more confident and competent in addressing the complex needs of trauma survivors.

Understanding Negative Healthcare Experiences

Negative healthcare experiences can have a profound impact on trauma survivors. These experiences often stem from non-trauma-informed care or non-trusting healthcare settings. Trauma survivors may encounter healthcare providers who dismiss their concerns, invalidate their experiences, or fail to create a safe environment for them to share their stories. These poor healthcare experiences can trigger intense emotional and physical responses, leading trauma survivors to further disconnect from healthcare services.

It is essential for healthcare providers to understand the impact of negative experiences on trauma survivors. By recognizing and acknowledging these experiences, providers can begin to address the unique needs and challenges that trauma survivors face. This understanding is crucial in creating a more supportive and compassionate healthcare environment, helping trauma survivors feel heard, valued, and ultimately more inclined to seek and receive the care they deserve.

The Psychological and Physiological Responses to Negative Healthcare Experiences

Negative healthcare experiences can have a profound impact on trauma survivors, triggering both psychological and physiological responses. Psychological and physical trauma responses can easily be activated by poor health care and negative patient experiences and encounters with professionals. Psychologically, trauma survivors may experience heightened anxiety, fear, and a sense of powerlessness, activating shame or humiliation. These trauma responses only lead to further isolation and disconnection from healthcare services, as they are not considered safe for patients. Physiologically, trauma survivors may exhibit symptoms such as increased heart rate, shallow breathing, or even different forms of dissociation. These responses are a direct result of the trauma-triggering nature of their healthcare experiences.

Understanding these psychological and physiological responses is essential for healthcare providers. By recognizing and addressing these responses, providers can begin to rebuild trust and create a safe environment for trauma survivors. This understanding allows providers to adapt their approach, ultimately improving the patient experience and encouraging trauma survivors to seek and receive the necessary healthcare they deserve.

How Trauma Survivors May React Differently to Healthcare

Trauma survivors may react differently to healthcare due to their past experiences and the lasting impact of their trauma. They may exhibit symptoms such as heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, or even avoidance of healthcare settings altogether. Understanding trauma response as survival and adaptive to a perceived or actual threat is important. It presents with a flight, fight or freeze response when triggered or activated. Anger, avoidance, appeasement, difficulty concentrating, easily startled and jumpy, irritable, easily frustrated, detached from self, heightened nervousness, non-trusting of others, withdrawing, isolating, or wanting to control processes or environment. For some, the anticipated fear of retraumatization may be overwhelming, leading them to avoid seeking healthcare even when it is necessary. Others may struggle with trust issues, making establishing a therapeutic relationship with healthcare providers difficult. Additionally, trauma survivors may have difficulty expressing their needs and concerns, as they may fear judgment or dismissal. Understanding these unique reactions and being aware of the challenges trauma survivors face is essential for healthcare providers in order to provide appropriate care, support, and trauma-informed treatment approaches as these symptoms present themselves. By creating a safe and trauma-informed environment, healthcare providers can help trauma survivors feel more comfortable seeking and receiving the care they need.

Common Examples of Negative Healthcare Experiences for Trauma Survivors

Trauma survivors may encounter various negative healthcare experiences that further isolate and disconnect them from the healthcare system. Some common examples include healthcare providers dismissing their concerns or invalidating their experiences, creating an environment where trauma survivors do not feel safe or heard. Other negative experiences may include a lack of privacy, feeling rushed or pressured during appointments, or being subjected to invasive or painful procedures without proper communication or consent. Healthcare approaches that require or demand compliance reinforce the power differential, positioning the professional as the expert and leaving the patient to be a passive participant in the process. Again, this only leads to compliance and oppressive practices. These experiences can be incredibly distressing for trauma survivors, exacerbating their anxiety and fear and reinforcing their mistrust of the healthcare system. It is crucial for healthcare providers to understand and address these common negative experiences in order to create a supportive and trauma-informed environment for trauma survivors.

Consequences of Avoiding Healthcare Due to Negative Experiences

Trauma survivors' negative experiences in healthcare settings can lead them to avoid seeking healthcare altogether. This avoidance can have serious consequences on their overall well-being. By avoiding necessary healthcare, trauma survivors may experience worsening physical and mental health symptoms, delayed diagnosis and treatment, and increased risk of complications. Additionally, avoiding healthcare can perpetuate feelings of isolation and distress, further exacerbating the trauma survivor's overall sense of disconnection from the healthcare system.

Furthermore, avoiding healthcare can prevent trauma survivors from receiving the support and resources they need to heal and recover. It can hinder their ability to develop a trusting therapeutic relationship or repair the rupture with healthcare providers while at the same time limiting their access to crucial interventions and treatments.

It is vital for healthcare providers to understand the potential consequences of avoiding healthcare due to negative experiences. By creating a trauma-informed environment and implementing strategies to rebuild trust, healthcare providers can help trauma survivors overcome their fear and isolation, leading to improved healthcare outcomes and overall well-being.

Steps for Healthcare Providers to Better Serve Trauma Survivors

To better serve trauma survivors, healthcare providers can take several important steps. Firstly, it is crucial for providers to undergo trauma-informed training to understand better the unique needs and challenges trauma survivors face. This training can help providers recognize the signs of trauma and implement trauma-informed practices in their interactions with patients. Also, with training, organizations need to recognize the importance that training must begin with the leadership to become trauma-informed democratic leaders. After initiating training at all healthcare organization levels, integration can only begin by writing or re-writing the policies, practices and Standards for Cultural Trauma-Informed Care. Including patients and families in developing the Cultural Trauma-Informed Standards is critical. You cannot define your healthcare organization as trauma-informed without this inclusion of patients and families. These standards include defining all clinical practices, service delivery transition points, organizational roles and responsibilities, and adherence accountabilities from a Cultural Trauma-Informed understanding.

All of this supports healthcare providers' commitment to creating a safe and supportive environment for trauma survivors. It will lead to practices that ensure privacy, take the time to listen and validate their experiences and practice empathy and compassion for patient/family healthcare.

Providers will prioritize effective present-oriented communication with trauma survivors, including using clear and concise language, allowing for open dialogue and questions, providing information and education about treatment options and informing patients of what will happen in their care before it is initiated.

By taking these steps, healthcare providers can play a crucial role in helping trauma survivors overcome their negative experiences and reconnect with the healthcare system, ultimately promoting healing and improving overall well-being.

Our organization has provided trauma-informed training

to many hospitals, community and family health centres over the last several years. Please feel free to reach out if you would like a consultation for organizational training.

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Be well


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