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An Inside Look at Treating Trauma

May 28, 2018
Published in: General, Mental Health

Two surgeons in an operating room performing surgery

What does a crushed leg sustained in a car accident, a severe burn from scalding water, and a concussion from playing football have in common? They are all considered traumas. However, trauma includes a complex layering of both physical and psychological ramifications. Health care professionals deal with trauma in a variety of capacities from life-saving medical interventions to long-term emotional care. It’s estimated that at least 70% of people will experience a traumatic injury or event in their lifetime. In recent years, developing new treatment programs and revising old ones to meet better the needs of people who have had traumatic experiences has been a more prominent focus of researchers.

Two Categories of Trauma

A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm. These events can result in physical trauma, psychological trauma, or both.

Medical Trauma

Medical trauma refers to physical pain or injuries that require medical attention. Examples of medical trauma include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Amputations
  • Crush injuries
  • Facial trauma
  • Concussion
  • Burns
  • Hemorrhaging

Traumatic injuries are often life-threatening. The immediate concern of medical professionals is to deliver life-saving and stabilizing care. Once the immediate threat is dealt with, patients often experience psychological difficulties from the injuries they’ve suffered.

Psychological Trauma

There are also psychological traumas that don't involve injury. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event, called a traumatic event or experience. These events often include violence or events that take a significant toll on your emotional or mental stability. However, major life changes can also be considered traumatic. People respond to experiences differently, so an occasion that may cause someone trauma may not be as damaging to someone else.Depressed woman talking to a therapist

Events that may lead to psychological trauma can include:
  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving to a new location
  • Witnessing a death
  • Parental abandonment

Most people may think of the psychological aspects of trauma, but hospitals deal with a specific type of trauma related to physical injury. Let's take a deeper look at how hospitals deal with traumatic injury.

A Deeper Look at Traumatic Injury

Traumatic injury describes sudden physical injuries that require immediate medical attention. There are two main types of medical trauma: blunt force trauma and penetrating trauma. Blunt force trauma is when an object or force strikes the body, often causing concussions, deep cuts, or broken bones. Penetrating trauma happens when an object pierces the skin or body, usually creating an open wound. Many accidents resulting in physical trauma can be treated in a hospital emergency department. Traumatic injuries may also result in the loss of a limb or the need for a life-saving procedure.

Common causes of traumatic injuries include:
  • Motor vehicle collisions
  • Sports injuries
  • Damages caused by natural disasters
  • Violent crime
  • Military combat injuries
  • Rape

Trauma Care in Hospitals

With proper treatment, individuals can recover from trauma and learn to manage their symptoms. After a traumatic injury, the person will be rushed to the emergency department to undergo the appropriate procedures or surgery. Hospitals also have trauma centers, departments that are equipped especially for traumatic experiences. The centers in the hospitals vary in across the United States, so a classification system is needed to distinguish the resources available. Each trauma center is labeled a certain level depending on the resources available and the number of patients admitted yearly.

The Holistic Approach to Trauma

In several cases, a traumatic experience may result in both physical and psychological trauma. This means that the instance causes at least one significant onset injury and causes challenges in coping after the event. To treat these long-term trauma patients, healthcare specialists will send them through several steps:Woman talking with a group of peers in an office setting

  1. Emergency procedures immediately following the traumatic injury. As explained in the previous sections, a patient will undergo all necessary surgeries and life-saving procedures as soon as possible. These injuries must be treated promptly to maximize the person's chances of recovery and minimize the overall toll.
  2. The physical recovery process. Once the patient is stable and beginning to make a physical recovery, specialists such as physical therapists will assist in helping the patient regain the strength and skills they need to return home.
  3. Counseling. The person experiencing the trauma may have trouble coping emotionally and psychologically long after the worst of the physical injuries are overcome. Because of this, they may need to seek the help of a counselor or psychologist. These professionals will help them learn to live successfully with their trauma, not forget about it.
  4. Group therapy. When the patient is ready, a psychologist may suggest attending support groups in addition to their psychological treatment. There are often several different types of support groups offered at local hospitals, medical centers, or in the community.

An individual’s unique trauma experience will determine the methods of treatment that are appropriate for them. Physical trauma occurs when a traumatic experience affects the way the person is psychologically able to cope with their daily experiences. Medical trauma involves significant injuries that must be treated in an emergency department or trauma center. A traumatic experience can be classified as both psychological and medical if the impact takes a physical and mental toll on the individual. Often several recovery steps must be taken to help the patient live with their trauma instead of being held back by the experience. With proper care and support, a patient can deal with a traumatic experience in a way that is healthy and healing.