Medical Trauma sure is real. It’s astonishing how many individuals are in therapy because of its impact on the body and mind.

Medical Trauma occurs when someone has a psychological and physiological response to a negative or traumatic experience in a medical setting. The experience may involve illness, injury, pain, or frightening, distressing medical treatment. In this post, I’ll address the latter.

A medical trauma due to distressing medical treatment can be a result of negligence, lack of understanding, or lack of empathy. Some examples include:

  • Being ignored or not heard by your doctor.
  • Not having your doctor take your concerns seriously or look at your history.
  • Not having your requests respected.
  • Being spoken to condescendingly, harshly, or with a lack of respect.

Identifying Causes

Healthcare providers can cause medical Trauma by being insensitive to a patient’s needs or stress level while interacting with them or performing procedures. Poor communication can increase a patient’s stress levels, thus leading to medical Trauma.

Anyone can experience medical Trauma, but research indicates that those at higher risk are individuals with a history of anxiety, PTSD, Trauma, or other mental health concerns. Also, anyone with high levels of stress (at home, at work, at school, or within relationships) is more likely to experience medical Trauma.

Survivors of Trauma generally downplay their Trauma and struggle. They often wonder if they are being melodramatic and try to excuse the offender’s behavior. But it’s important to recognize that medical Trauma is real and worthy of acknowledgment and validation to start the healing process.

Symptoms of Medical Trauma

Similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), symptoms of medical Trauma include:

  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance of doctors
  • Depression
  • Digestive Issues
  • Emotional Numbing
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Fearfulness
  • Flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance or heightened state of alertness
  • Intense emotions
  • Intrusive thoughts, memories, or nightmares
  • Sleep disturbances

Treatment for Healing

Similar to other types of Trauma, psychotherapy can be helpful to help process the experience. Some approaches therapists might use in treating medical Trauma include:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TFCBT)
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Neurofeedback
  • Narrative therapy
  • Somatic experiencing
  • Exposure therapy

A Medical Trauma Experience

Someone permitted me to share the details of their unfortunate medical Trauma. For privacy reason, both the patient and doctor remain nameless. I’m hoping parts, if not all, of the story, will resonate with many who may have been traumatized by a medical professional and need help.

It begins with the doctor’s office emailing the patient that it is time to schedule an annual appointment. After receiving the answering machine, the patient left a message that it is impossible to talk at work and gave an alternate number of a family member to call who could provide the payment deposit requested and schedule the appointment. The office ignored the message and alternative number and called the patient at work again. The office stated that the doctor could only meet until 1:30; if that did not work, the patient could schedule with another doctor. The patient had previously asked if it would be possible to meet after 4:00 p.m. and have consistency with the same doctor on future visits. The office accommodated the patient without any objection. For an unknown reason, this seemed to be an issue now.

Lack of Respect

The patient didn’t respond while at work, so the office persisted, leaving the patient another message requesting a response. Knowing they were suffering from anxiety and depression and probably more sensitive than usual, the patient chose to directly text the doctor because the doctor had previously permitted direct contact. The patient kindly asked if there might be availability on any Friday during the day when the patient worked from home or if the doctor could suggest another option. The doctor texted back that the only available hours were until 1:30 and not available on Friday without apologizing for the inconvenience.

The patient needed time to think about how to make this work and was contemplating asking about changing the current work-at-home day to another day before responding. But there wasn’t an opportunity to investigate that opinion because the doctor called the patient at work early the next morning. Seeing the doctor’s name, the patient hurried into a conference room to answer the call quietly, expecting a possible solution. But that was far from what happened. The doctor demanded to know why the patient didn’t respond immediately. The patient said because they had to mull it over—”What does that mean,” the doctor challenged in a sharp tone. The doctor could not see that the patient needed adequate time to make arrangements.


The patient, taken aback by the doctor’s tone, stated they needed time. Before the patient could explain about asking their boss about scheduling, the doctor said, “I have a schedule, and YOU have to understand the world doesn’t revolve around YOU; YOU have to fit into the world.”

The patient, in shock, felt attacked and didn’t know how to respond. They didn’t deserve to be treated this way and quickly implemented techniques from their therapist not to give the aggressor what they wanted, which is a negative response. The patient softly said they felt there was a lack of empathy from the office. They didn’t think it was unreasonable for the office to pull the patient’s file to understand history before calling. The doctor quickly responded that the office had hundreds of patients and could not pull the file on everyone before calling back and then said the patient was being abusive. The patient did everything they could not to cry and stated that pulling a file in advance didn’t seem unreasonable for the $425 fee charged.


The doctor said it felt like a relationship, and the doctor should break up with the patient. The patient thought, “What are you talking about?” The doctor went on to criticize the patient using trigger statements while being fully aware the patient suffers from anxiety and depression. “YOU are the only one who has ever complained about our office.” Any professional who treats mental health issues should know not to single out and make the patient feel as if they are isolated. The appalling nerve of the doctor to accuse the patient of being abusive when it was clear the doctor was the abuser.

The patient, having learned techniques from their therapist, knew they were dealing with an irrational person and told the doctor that the conversation was causing more damage than good.

Traumatic Damage

After hanging up the phone, the patient cried hysterically from the undeserving treatment. Then, after calming down, they made an appointment with their therapist.

After explaining the interaction to the therapist, the therapist said they were proud of the patient for using the techniques learned to stay calm during the interaction. The therapist couldn’t believe the doctor treated the patient that way, knowing the patient’s history of anxiety and depression. The therapist advised the patient not to have any further direct contact with the doctor or the office. Suggesting the patient send a note via the patient portal stating they would no longer need their services and walk away from the abusive behavior, believing that responding any other way would fall on deaf ears.

Then the therapist said try not to think or talk about this at work or home. The only time the patient can is in the therapist’s office, where they can together work through the Trauma and correct it. Trauma can cause patients to remunerate on incidents feeding into self-blame guilt feelings. 

The patient later looked up the reviews on the doctor’s practice to see that what the doctor said was untrue. There were good reviews, but a few were not good, and many unspoken likes were attached to the not-so-good reviews.

This patient’s story is sad but not uncommon. Communication appears to be a massive weakness for this office. The patient informed me that after cutting ties via the patient portal, the doctor sent another text asking again for a response to schedule the annual appointment. No one communicated to the doctor that the patient left the practice.

Personal Story

Years ago, I had a medical trauma. During my break for lunch, I went across the street from where I worked for a doctor’s appointment. Seeing a full waiting room tempted me to leave, but I needed medical care. After an hour, I finally get taken back to an exam room, where I wait another 15-20 minutes for the doctor. I told him I had never waited so long for an appointment when he entered the room. The doctor most likely had heard that several times throughout the morning. Instead of understanding the patient’s frustrations, he snapped very loudly that if I didn’t like it, I could go somewhere else. He said he had many patients to see and didn’t appreciate complaining.

I made a statement, not a complaint. The doctor’s response surprised me, so I kept my mouth shut, got my prescription, fumed over the fact that my insurance would pay him, and never returned.

When a doctor you trust with your medical well-being yells or scolds, it causes cognitive dissonance and affects the psyche. For years after, I felt intimidated to talk to doctors and share personal medical information. 

I understand that doctors have some patients who are difficult or demanding and that they have stressful days, too. However, all patients are not equal and should not be treated poorly for the sins of others. It’s not that hard to be nice. Just treat others with the same regard you expect in return. As a patient, you are choosing them out of hundreds of others in their field, and if they treat you with the respect you deserve, you may feel inclined to refer them to family and friends. Whatever happened to the kindness of sorry, please, thank you, or you are welcome? 

Trauma is subjective

If you experienced a traumatic event, then you have experienced Trauma. No one can decide whether you have or have not experienced Trauma because only you know what you feel.

Medical Trauma is something not many people talk about, which is why some experts refer to it as disenfranchised Trauma or unacknowledged. Trauma can be tricky because you may not understand what is happening or take it seriously. However, Trauma affects physical and mental health, and it’s vital to take the full range of symptoms into account to heal properly.

Background checks

I always recommend checking the reviews before seeking advice from any professional. Not that this is a full-safe solution. But it is best to put the odds in your favor. Be mindful of reviews that appear too glowing. In the above example, the patient read between the lines. Bad reviews liked by many indicate that people are uncomfortable leaving a review but want someone to know they agree with the bad review. Also, don’t rely on doctor-posted testimonials. Dig deep into social media to see what patients are saying.

Lastly, a medical professional mentioned that it is easy to check online whether a medical professional has had any disciplinary action or had their license suspended or revoked. Go to your state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and search by speciality and name. If you know the doctor has practiced in other states, look up each individually. Believe it or not, having a suspended license in one state does not prevent them from practicing in another. You would be surprised how many doctors continue practicing with disciplinary actions on their records or suspended licenses.

Once is enough

Not all doctors who treat their patients poorly violate the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. They most likely don’t get reported because it is your word against theirs.

Also not all doctors are unkind. Many treat their patients with respect, which is why giving grace to the fact that everyone has bad days, even doctors is essential. However, when a doctor treating mental health conditions lacks empathy, that’s a red flag. Also, abuse is generally not an isolated incident. If they do it to you, they’ve done it to others. We have all heard doctors have large egos, which may be true. But not at the expense of a patient’s well-being. Protect your energy and avoid anyone being disrespectful. You deserve better!