How to Recognize and Respond to Medical Trauma

Shellye Horowitz avatar

by Shellye Horowitz |

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There are multiple types of medical trauma. A medical emergency can be traumatic. Chronic medical issues can be traumatic. Struggling to obtain a diagnosis and treatment is traumatic.

I believe that one of the most consequential results of suffering medical trauma is the subsequent refusal to engage with medical professionals. Sometimes after a medical trauma occurs, people will want to avoid all medical care, which can be dangerous. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur, and the anxiety can cause people to shy away from even basic care.

In my work as a school counselor, I have seen people develop a cycle of avoidance that reinforces their trauma. For example, if I fear medical professionals, then I avoid them. This means putting off important doctors’ appointments. By putting off important appointments, I allow medical problems to grow. And when I finally make it to the doctor, the problem has become a big one, leading to bad news and a long recovery time. This, in turn, will reinforce my original fear of medical professionals that kept me away in the first place.

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Women, hemophilia, and medical trauma

I have met many women who have experienced medical trauma that correlated with their hemophilia. Some women were bleeding profusely, yet medical professionals didn’t believe them. Other women were told they didn’t have hemophilia and were hypochondriacs. Still others heard they couldn’t have a bleeding disorder because “women are only carriers.”

The women who were dismissed when seeking care experienced the trauma of being denied treatment. They also have the long-term effects of years of untreated bleeds. Thankfully, this is shifting as more medical professionals become sensitive to the needs of women with bleeding disorders.

Breaking the cycle

The following steps can help to break the cycle of recurring medical trauma:

  • Scheduling routine appointments. One of the keys to breaking the cycle of medical trauma is making sure to schedule and attend routine medical appointments. Issues that are caught early can be easier to cope with and resolve more quickly. Pushing off medical appointments can often cause more issues down the road.
  • Bringing a support person. If attending medical appointments is rough for you, consider bringing a support person. When I had to have a major surgery a few years ago, I found comfort in bringing a close friend to my appointments. It was a great way to have another perspective on the information that was shared by medical professionals.
  • Considering therapy. If you are really struggling with medical trauma, you may benefit from therapy to address this specific issue. Often cognitive behavioral therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can help lessen the stronghold of past trauma.
  • Ensuring you are with the right medical provider. If you continue to struggle with medical care, you may consider whether your provider is right for you. If you have experienced medical trauma, you may need to carefully choose future medical professionals. For example, some people I know feel more comfortable with a woman doctor or a younger one who may have more current training.

Growing past trauma

If you have experienced medical trauma, it is my hope that you will be able to heal both physically and emotionally. To me, healing from medical trauma means having a reparative experience of receiving quality medical care.

Everyone deserves medical treatment. Everyone deserves to feel they are respected and safe when seeking medical care. Accessing appropriate diagnosis and treatment is important. Feeling physically and emotionally safe during medical care is also critical. Both should be a universal right. I hope one day they are.


Note: Hemophilia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Hemophilia News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to hemophilia.


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