What Is Medical Trauma

Medical trauma is the subjective personal experience of an individual in response to a medical procedure, injury or treatment that results in a range of complex negative psychological and physiological responses. 

Medical trauma is  understood as a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and does not have to be as a result of a procedure going wrong – it can also be a response to a routine diagnosis, operation or treatment.

Symptoms of medical trauma can vary in intensity and may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fear of medical settings or medical staff
  • Physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or discomfort
  • Repetitive negative thoughts about your experience
  • Avoidance or emotional numbing 
  • Irritability 
  • Feelings of depression and anxiety are commonly experienced alongside medical trauma

A medical trauma response can often be the result of a high level of stress preceding or following the medical procedure. One understanding of medical trauma is that it arises due to the inability to properly process the emotions after the event. As a result of high stress, demanding jobs or busy lives, we do not give ourselves enough time to mentally heal, as well as physically heal, from a medical procedure.

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What Does Medical Trauma Feel Like

From confusion, anger, anxiety and hopelessness, medical trauma involves a cocktail of difficult and sometimes conflicting emotions. You may find yourself questioning why you feel the way you do, or why you still have these thoughts and feelings. Often people experience medical trauma as a delayed response, and only after experiencing a ‘trigger event’ do they feel the emotional impact of the trauma. 

As well as a sense of fear and anxiety, you may be feeling grief as a result of your change in life circumstances post-medical event. Others have reported feeling a loss of self and independence, a difficulty in coming to terms with their new role in the family or a decrease in mental and physical functioning. Furthermore, experiencing distressing medical procedures can challenge our ideas of safety and invulnerability. 

Simply becoming aware that medical procedures can, and do, have an intense impact, is an important first step.

Medical Trauma Treatment

Much research has shown that engaging in therapy can significantly help people experiencing medical trauma.

Therapy does not have to be complicated. Simply having the space to talk and explore how you are feeling can result in some well-needed emotional relief.

As trauma is experienced in the mind and body, therapy will encourage you to explore both of these areas; with the aim to rediscover a healthier relationship between your mind, body and the world around you. It can be challenging at first to open the door to your suffering, but with the help of a trained therapist you can gently regain control of your trauma and anxieties, instead of being controlled by them.

Therapists can draw on several evidence-based techniques such as CBT, mindfulness and narrative therapy to help you re-tell your trauma and normalise your emotional responses.

Through therapy, you can explore the meaning of your trauma and how it has affected you. Like all other traumas, experiencing medical trauma can be a significant catalyst for personal growth and discovering meaning.

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Learn more about Medical Trauma


You may not be ready to talk to us yet, so here are some self-help strategies that can help you reduce your anxiety symptoms:

  1. Opening up to someone you trust can be a relief and help you better understand your worries and anxiety.
  2. Look after your physical health by getting enough sleep, and follow
  3. A balanced diet that can stabilise your mood and energy levels.
  4. Regular exercise will help you battle stress and release tension, as your brain releases endorphins which will improve your mood.
  5. Breathing exercises, mindfulness and relaxation techniques will help calm your mind.
  6. Keep a diary of the situations that make you feel anxious and note how you’ve reacted in each situation. This will help you identify potential triggers for your anxiety.
  7. Avoid things that can exacerbate your anxiety, such as smoking, caffeine and alcohol.