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Trauma Symptomology in Medical Practice

February 13, 2012
by Carol Ackley
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Substance Abuse, Mental Health, Trauma

Dr. Leslie Ahlers, Medical Director at River Ridge Treatment Center writes:

As a family physician and pain management specialist, I am fascinated by the effect of trauma on health and wellness, and how often it is connected to symptoms of chronic pain, mental illness, and addictions.

Trauma can have a very insidious impact on a person's health and well-being, often without their awareness. It impairs a person's coping and healing abilities, resulting, in some cases, in chronic and disabling problems. For example, someone with persistent symptoms of pain without apparent cause, symptoms of depression or anxiety unresponsive to treatment, and addictions with recurrent treatment failures, in my experience, often has trauma in their past, and is the root of these problems.

It can be challenging uncovering trauma and helping clients recognize the importance and impact of these events which they have suppressed, or at least minimized, often for many years, in order to cope with them. However, I have found that when provided a compassionate and supportive environment, with focused interviewing attentive to traumatic past experiences, clients are able to discuss and consider the impact that trauma has had on them.

My approach is to help them understand that although we may be able to "forget" a trauma, the body "remembers," and symptoms that seem confusing or frightening can actually hold the key healing and recovery. With this new awareness, clients often become more open to treatments that can help cope them in healthier ways, such as counseling, trauma-focused therapy, EMDR, and appropriate medical and psychiatric care.

I believe that trauma is often the "missing link" to the therapeutic breakthroughs we seek with our most challenging clients. As we grow in our ability to identify trauma and it's connection to these problems, counsel our clients regarding this crucial factor in their healing and recovery, and connect them to effective therapies to address these, we will likely see more successful outcomes.

I would love to hear from other medical professionals on their experience with trauma symptomology in their practices.

Thanks,

Dr. Leslie Ahlers

River Ridge Treatment Center

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Carol Ackley

Carol Ackley is Executive Director of River Ridge Treatment Center in Minnesota. She has created...