medical trauma


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What is medical trauma?

We specialize in therapy for medical trauma in NYC

Hospitals and other outpatient settings (clinics, doctor’s offices, etc.) have an unfortunate reputation for being frightening, anxiety-inducing, or just plain uncomfortable places to be in. Discomfort is natural in an environment where testing or other invasive procedures occur, and even routine procedures could go wrong.

For some people, however, the discomfort can run deeper; it could be the site of a traumatizing past experience. Some may have experienced medical malpractice or complications during their treatment — leaving them with disability, injury, or even death. These can result in long-lasting effects, including financial and legal stressors.

If you’ve had a stint at a hospital that’s left you with unpleasant symptoms or negative feelings long after any physical symptoms healed, it could be a sign that something needs attention. Read on to learn more about medical trauma and how therapy can help you heal.

What does medical trauma look like?

Medical trauma risk factors and examples

Medical trauma is a physiological and psychological response to a negative experience in a medical setting (hospitals, urgent care centers, clinics, doctor’s offices, specialized outpatient services, etc.). The term medical PTSD is also used for diagnosis when symptoms match those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and originated from trauma in a medical setting.

Anyone can experience medical trauma, although some groups may face a higher risk. These groups include:

  • People with a history of trauma, PTSD, or other mental health conditions

  • People constantly undergoing high levels of stress (at work, school, home, or in relationships)

  • People with chronic health conditions or symptoms — especially conditions lacking clear diagnoses or treatments

  • Women and people of color

    Medical trauma is often the result of injury, pain, illness, frightening or invasive procedures, and dismissive or distressing medical treatment.

    Some specific examples are:

      • Birth trauma, including emergency C-sections, obstetric violence (physical or emotional mistreatment, such as forced procedures, coercion, physical abuse, non-dignified care, etc.), and an infant going into the newborn intensive care unit (NICU)

      • Undergoing amputation of a limb

      • Suffering a heart attack and needing to be resuscitated

      • Experiencing extreme pain from an injury

      • Having health complications as a child

      • Recovering from cancer or other serious illness

      • Staying in the intensive care unit (ICU)

      • Receiving a life-threatening diagnosis

      • Being affected by a global pandemic (particularly common after COVID-19)

      • Poor treatment from medical staff (being inconsiderate of the patient’s needs or comfort levels)

      • Medical malpractice or negligence (surgical errors, incorrect diagnosis, unnecessary surgery, etc.) 

          How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Medical Trauma?

          One thing to keep in mind is that trauma is subjective. If the event was traumatic for you specifically, then you’ve experienced trauma. No one else can invalidate that. This also means that symptoms can differ wildly from one person to another. Here are some of the most common:

          • Anxiety

          • Depression

          • Avoidance of stimuli (avoiding doctors and hospitals)

          • Gastrointestinal issues (nausea or indigestion) 

          • Numbness and dissociation

          • Panic attacks

          • Flashbacks

          • Hypervigilance (more sensitivity to surroundings than usual)

          • Exaggerated startle response

          • Intense emotions (rage or shame)

          • Intrusive thoughts, memories, and nightmares

          • Muscle tension or chronic pain

          • Sleep problems (sleeping too little or too much)

          • Substance abuse

          • Self-harm

          • Eating disorders

          • Compulsive behaviors (constantly working or exercising)


          Trauma isn’t something that you can just “get over.” Healing from it is complex because any two people experiencing medical trauma have different experiences, reactions, and triggers, stemming from the causes of their trauma and the related symptoms. Symptoms also tend to be both physical and mental, so any treatment needs to take the full range of your symptoms into account.

          Trauma-focused therapy encompasses a wide range of approaches to complement the various ways trauma might manifest in an individual. It can help you reframe memories or learn coping skills to handle difficult situations. Therapy can also help you identify your triggers and your emotional responses, so you can manage them in the future. In addition, therapy may also help you address symptoms that could be affecting your quality of life, such as anxiety and depression.

          Lastly — and perhaps most importantly — therapy can help you feel seen, heard, and cared for. Often, trauma survivors may downplay their trauma, believing it couldn’t possibly be real. However, the first step to healing is acknowledging your trauma. If you’ve been struggling with a loss of hope for the future or fear that your life will never return to normal, therapy for medical trauma in NYC can help you take the first step forward.

          What does therapy for MEDICAL trauma in NYC look like?

          We specialize in treating medical trauma

          Our NYC therapists use many approaches to treating trauma, depending on what may work best for you and your situation. Some approaches focus on the connection between your physical symptoms and mental health, using a combination of talk therapy and mind-body exercises (e.g. breathwork, dance, yoga, etc.).

          Others like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may focus more on identifying and addressing negative thought patterns and accompanying behaviors. Some, like Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) also focus on helping you make traumatic memories less overwhelming. Every person is unique, so therapy for medical trauma can look very different for you compared to another. 

          what if i’m Not ready to start therapy?

          Therapy may be effective for some, but that doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to go through with it if you don’t feel ready. You can always begin your healing journey with small steps, such as:

          • Developing good exercise habits, which can help relieve stress and anxiety

          • Reaching out to trusted friends and family and continuing to socialize with them instead of isolating yourself

          • Finding local or online trauma support groups, which can be a helpful source of strength and resources

          • Creating and sticking to good lifestyle habits, such as a proper sleeping schedule (which is important for allowing your mind and body to rest and recharge) and avoiding drugs and alcohol (which can worsen trauma symptoms)

          • Practicing relaxation techniques (like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness) that can help you cope with feeling overwhelmed or losing control of your emotions, mind, and body

          • To learn more about trauma symptoms, as well as effective treatment, please visit the PTSD Alliance or the National Center for PTSD. 

          interested in therapy for medical trauma in nyc?

          We can help.

          If you’ve experienced medical trauma and are curious about how therapy can help you, feel free to reach out to us. We can help you learn strategies that will help you heal and enjoy your life again. Book a 30-minute complimentary consultation with a NYC therapist who specializes in medical trauma today.


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