How My Therapist's Questions Help Me Manage Medical Trauma

As a person with a history of medical trauma related to my rare diseases, sometimes I put expectations on myself that are unrealistic or harmful. To help me reevaluate my views and expectations, my therapist asks me questions that help me see my responses to situations from a different perspective.

Therapy is helping me understand my trauma responses

Ultimately, this helps me normalize my trauma responses and reduces my negative thoughts of myself as abnormal, absurd, ridiculous, and childish. It also reduces the feelings of shame and guilt that come along with such thoughts.

My therapist asks me questions such as:

  • How do you think someone else would react to the same medical trauma?
  • How do you think someone else would react to a triggering situation with the same medical trauma?
  • Do you think that's an understandable reaction you're having to the situation?
  • Would someone else have the same reaction?
  • Would you say that's a normal reaction?
  • Why isn't that a normal reaction for you to have?
  • How would you view someone else if they were experiencing the same situation?
  • What would you say to someone else if they were experiencing the situation?
  • Would you tell someone else the same things you're telling yourself if they were in the same situation?
  • Don't you deserve the same compassion that you would give someone else in the same situation?

An example of a medical trauma response

Part of my medical trauma surrounds my nose and traumatic experiences with nasogastric tubes. I was terrified of undergoing a COVID-19 nasal swab test, but I had to for a surgery I couldn't put off any longer.

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To prepare, I took some anti-anxiety medication, and my father came with me for support, transportation, and to help restrain my head so the test could be done. Like many times before tests or procedures, I felt confident in my ability to cope with the upcoming situation. I felt determined not to experience a trauma response to the nasal swab test.

However, when I was told to remove my mask, my mind had other plans and my trauma responses kicked in. I didn't have any control over my mind or my body. I broke free of my father's attempt to keep my head still, and the nurses had to restrain me. I screamed at the top of my lungs, sobbing the entire time. The swab didn't hurt, and it was very quick. And yet, I had no control over myself. I judged myself harshly for losing control again in a medical situation.

This or That

Have you ever feel triggered in a medical setting?

Learning to accept my responses rather than fighting them

My therapist asked me that series of questions and helped me realize that due to my medical post-traumatic stress disorder and the medical trauma I experienced, it's understandable and normal that at times, medical situations trigger my trauma responses and I lose control.

She suggested that I normalize my trauma responses by recognizing that medical situations are likely to trigger a trauma response. Accepting that likelihood before going into a medical situation rather than fighting against that notion helps reduce the power of the situation and the response.

Now, when heading into a medical situation that I know may be triggering, I no longer tell myself that I'm not going to lose control or that I'm not going to have any emotion or reaction to the event. Instead, I tell myself that this may be a triggering situation, and if so, it is completely normal that I may have trauma responses, and I may not be able to control all of them, and that's normal. I'm still working through my trauma, and it's okay that I still have trauma responses at times.

I am more prepared going into triggering situations

I have noticed an improvement in my reactions, thoughts, and views of myself when I'm entering a possibly triggering medical situation. For example, when I went for my last round of iron infusions, I reminded myself that, based on my previous experiences, I would likely require multiple intravenous (IV) attempts, and I know that after the third attempt, I sometimes start to feel triggered.

I told myself that it was okay to feel triggered, that it was okay to cry, and that the nurses would help me get through the IVs needed for my infusions. This took away some of the fear of what could happen as I lowered expectations of my responses and the situation itself. I was able to feel more prepared for the possibility of a triggering situation and was less harsh on myself when I did require multiple IV attempts.

Do you ever feel triggered in medical situations due to past trauma? How do you cope? Please share in the comments below.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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