About 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event in their life.1 COVID-19 may have resulted in a traumatic experience for many, while for others it may have triggered re-traumatization from past experiences. The experience of trauma or re-traumatization during a patient’s rehab stay cannot only result in physical, psychological, and emotional health conditions, but also impede therapeutic rapport, the patient’s feelings of safety, and the overall healing and recovery process. By putting into practice the core principles of trauma-informed care (TIC): patient empowerment, choice, collaboration, safety, and trustworthiness, physical therapists can help prevent trauma and re-traumatization while increasing overall patient health and well-being.
Physical therapists have a responsibility to become trauma-informed and respond to each patient’s needs with a holistic approach by preventing re-traumatization and creating a supportive and safe environment for a patient’s rehabilitation journey. When the therapy team has been alerted to a history of trauma or is aware of a particularly stressing event such as loss or isolation during the pandemic, consider this history during the development of goals and treatment approaches. For example, provide education on the impact and empowerment associated with improving the level of independence with bed mobility or transfers. Assess and modify environmental factors that trigger re-traumatization. Other tips to implement through interventions may include identifying alternative approaches to physical assistance (i.e., sit to stand assistance with equipment support instead of hands-on approach), clearly communicating the purpose and process of the activity before providing manual interventions (i.e., explaining hand placement before intervention initiated), and identifying and respecting preferences (i.e., gender preference with close interactions such as bed mobility tasks).
Many of the patients we serve have a history of trauma or may be experiencing a traumatic experience through their illness or injury. Some have faced loss through COVID-19, while others may internalize fear and uncertainty through prolonged hospitalization and isolation in response to the pandemic. Trauma has lasting implications on an individual’s health and well-being. The physical therapist that approaches each individualized plan of care with function and the emotional well-being of the patient first and foremost will demonstrate the distinct value of physical therapy in trauma-informed care.
National Council for Behavioral Health. (2015, Jan 8). Retrieved March 8, 2021, from https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/BH365/2015/01/08/strengthening-personal-community-resilience-mitigate-impact-disaster-trauma/.