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Editor's e-Note
It has been since 9/11, even earlier, that health care professionals have come to recognize how deeply affected individuals are by trauma in all aspects of living. Trauma affects individuals in myriad ways and trauma-informed care has become a commonly accepted method of delivering service to clients. But one type of trauma that has only recently been recognized is trauma induced through medical care, especially intensive medical care, such as ICU treatment, surgery, or emergency department treatment. This month’s E-News Exclusive describes the research being done on the phenomenon of trauma related to medical care, the available resources, and the risk factors.

We welcome your comments at Visit our website at, like our Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter.

— Marianne Mallon, editor
e-News Exclusive
Medical Trauma
By J. Scott Janssen, MSW, LCSW

When most social workers are asked about the origins of psychological trauma they are likely to think of frightening events like an automobile accident, assault, or combat. Some may point to the potentially traumatizing impact of ruptures in attachment bonds or a chronic lack of safety occurring in early development, or of longstanding emotional or physical abuse. Few are likely to consider treatment in a hospital emergency department or waking up in an ICU after surgery.

The idea that medical treatment can be traumatic may seem counterintuitive. We tend to associate medical care with expertise, skill, and advanced technology in service of healing, not harming. Maybe that’s why it has only been in recent years that social workers, researchers, and other health care professionals have begun understanding the ways that medical interventions and interactions with medical staff during times of crisis can result in severe and persistent traumatic stress.

According to Barbara Ganzel, PhD, MSW, of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, “Medical traumas are psychological traumas that result from medical diagnosis and/or medical intervention. Threat of serious injury or threat to life due to illness is now encompassed within the DSM definition of psychological trauma. This means that medical patients can be evaluated as having illness-related trauma disorders.”

Full Story »
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