Preventing Re-Traumatizing Victimized Patients Within The Medical Industry

Patient crying

Maleficence in Treatment: Dismissing Patients When They Need Providers Most

Adults who have had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or are victims of violent crime are often in physiological pain (Clarke, Schubiner, Clark-Smith & Abbass, 2019) have a need for trauma informed care. Trauma-informed Care is important for preventing re-traumatizing victimized patients. However, medical professionals often dismiss their claims of pain (Clarke et al., 2019; Clarke, 2007). Often, the individual is discharged without treatment (Clarke, 2007; Schubiner & Betzold, 2016). During the examination, patients are met with claims that their test results did not produce any significant findings. Similarly, others are labeled as having “health anxiety.”

Doctors evidently accused patients being drug addicts who are looking for the right physician to prescribe them drugs (Buchman, Ho, and Illes, 2016; Clarke, 2007; Clarke et al., 2020; Schubiner & Betzold, 2016). Therefore, new research in the fields of integrated healthcare and neuroscience are starting to shed light on psychophysiologic manifestations of pain. The research sheds light on how the pain correlates to trauma (Clarke et al., 2019).

Neurological Restructuring and Psychophysiologic Disorders

When an individual directly experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, their brain patterns are altered (Anda, 2007; Clarke et al., 2019). Moreover, the more traumatic the event, the more neurological alterations and structural changes to the brain occur. Furthermore, some individuals develop adverse psychological disorders as a result of trauma. Meanwhile, others develop psychophysiological disorders (Anda, 2007; Clarke et al., 2019).

Subsequently, it is difficult for physicians to diagnosis the underlying cause of the psychological or physiological distress (Clarke, 2007). As a result, the intersections between neurological, biological, epidemiological, and psychophysiologic disorders and trauma are resoundingly related and interwoven, thus making preventing re-retraumitizing victimized patients difficult (Anda, 2007; Clarke et al., 2019).

The Reason for Multi-Collaborative and Trauma Informed Care for Prevention

Victims of violent crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, need a combination of psychological and medical care (Clarke, 2007). For example, during the initial phases of care for these individuals, there is often a mismanagement of care. Instead, medical and therapeutic providers try to assert themselves for treatment, as well as advocates and social services professionals rendering services at inopportune times. In addition, legal assistance and law enforcement agents gathering information need to start the process of providing services. The patient is not generally in an appropriate condition for these mishandled processes.

Subsequently, what is lost in that process is a systematic care delivery that helps all entities to work together. The goal is to reduce re-traumatization of the individual (Anda, 2007; Clarke et al., 2019; Duckworth & Folette, 2012; Klott, 2013). In addition to this, re-traumatization affirms and further restructures the neuropathways by which the brain sends and receives messages (Anda, 2007; Duckworth & Follette, 2012; Klott, 2013).

The Breakdown

Due to these changes in the brain, the individual may behave differently than usual (Anda, 2007; Duckworth & Follette, 2012; Klott, 2013). Medical and psychological providers then begin treating the individual’s maladaptive behaviors and not the individual (Anda, 2007; Clarke, 2007; Duckworth & Follette, 2012; Klott, 2013). As a result, treatment by multiple providers is disrupted. The patient’s medical and therapeutic services halt as well as their social and legal services (Duffy, Adams, Sibbritt & Loxton, 2014).

Certainly, this is evidence of a breakdown in communication for care. For instance, efficacy and efficiency are sacrificed when suboptimal services are rendered.(Duffy et al., 2014; Klott, 2013). Also, there are many initiatives being taken to improve multi-provider care for victims of violence, re-traumatization and mismanagement of care are still an issue.

Trauma-Informed Care in Integrated Behavioral Healthcare

Doctors of Behavioral Health were established to provide an integrated healthcare solution for patients who had complex medical and psychological needs (Landoll, Maggio, Cervero & Quinlan, 2018; O’Donnell, 2012); they are medical healthcare professionals, trained in the Primary Care Behavioral Health (PCBH) model.

PCBH is a care delivery system designed to meet both psychological and neurobiological needs (Landoll et al., 2018; O’Donnell, 2012). As a result of these needs, Doctors of Behavioral Health are trained in interprofessional learning environments. Therefore, they are able to handle a wide variety of patient populations (Landoll et al., 2018).

Increasing positive outcomes

Integrated Healthcare Professionals, like the Doctor of Behavioral Health, also train other providers on how to increase positive outcomes, improve care pathway and delivery, drive down overutilization, and consequently increase both patient and provider satisfaction (Landoll et al., 2018; O’Donnell, 2012). Doctors of Behavioral Health are uniquely qualified to take care of the array of psychobiomedical needs of victims of violent crime and likewise, the needs of people with ACEs (Landoll et al., 2018).

Stress-Related Illnesses

Victims of violent crimes and patients with ACEs suffer from a variety of stress-related illnesses (Clarke et al., 2007; Schubiner & Betzold, 2016). The hallmark of these stress illnesses tends to be pain (Schubiner & Betzold, 2016). Whether emotional pain from distress or physiological pain from assault, peritraumatic responses are created.

Psychophysiologic Responses

Over time, these responses make structural changes to the brain, neurological pathways, resulting in reactions caused by malfunctioning neuroendocrine and neurochemical systems (Bremmer, 2006; Bremmer, Elzinga, Schmahl, & Vermetten, 2008; Clarke, 2007; Courtois & Ford, 2009; Olff, Langeland, & Gersons, 2005). As a result, this causes structural changes to the hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex. It also changes neuroendocrine and neurochemical patterns, such as the overproduction of cortisol and adrenaline.

Finally, it causes behavioral manifestations that defy diagnostic assessment. These changes make it difficult for the physician to pinpoint the causes of their pain (Bremmer, 2006; Bremmer et al., 2008; Clarke, 2007; Clarke et al., 2019; Olff et al., 2005). The patient experiences a dismissal of their presenting issues (Clarke, 2007). However, with the help of more trauma-informed integrated healthcare providers patients will experience changes in how they are treated within medical and integrated healthcare settings.

Preventing Re-Traumatizing Victimized Patients

Integrated healthcare professionals, like Doctors of Behavioral Health, are changing the way we interact with patients who are victims of violent crimes or ACEs (Landoll et al., 2018; O’Donnell, 2012). These professionals are already trauma-informed and are trained in integrated healthcare services (Landoll et al., 2018). Above all, being trauma-informed is more than knowing the patient has experienced trauma. It comes with an understanding what the patient needs and knowing cultural issues that may arise.

It helps providers understand what the patients have experienced and the effects and in knowing what works for the patient in order to create a collaborative care team that meets those needs (Landoll et al., 2018; O’Donnell, 2012) for preventing re-traumatizing victimized patients. If one’s place of employment does not have healthcare educators who can train providers on trauma-informed treatment of victims of violent crimes and those with ACEs, reaching out to training organizations can help to train providers on how to implement trauma-informed practices and improve delivery of care.


In conclusion, victims of violence and those with ACEs have experienced enough trauma. It is time that medical facilities start appropriately educating their providers to handle patients with psychobiomedical issues, caused by trauma. There is a new approach to working with patients and preventing re-traumatizing victimized patients. This novel way of providing care pathways and delivery systems reduces re-traumatization and ensures patients’ experiences are always considered.


Anda, R. (2007). The Health and Social Impact of Growing Up With Adverse Childhood Experiences. The Human and Economic Costs of the Status Quo. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1–20.

Buchman, D. Z., Ho, A., & Illes, J. (2016). You present like a drug addict: Patient and clinician perspectives on trust and trustworthiness in chronic pain management: table 1. Pain Medicine17(8), 1394–1406.

Bremmer, J. (2006). Traumatic stress: Effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience8(4), 445–461.

Bremner, J. D., Elzinga, B., Schmahl, C., & Vermetten, E. (2008). Structural and functional plasticity of the human brain in posttraumatic stress disorder. Progress in brain research167, 171–186.

Clarke, D. D. (2007). They can’t find anything wrong! 7 keys to understanding, treating & healing stress illness. Sentient Publications.

Clarke, D. D., Schubiner, H., Clark-Smith, M., & Abbass, A. (2019). Psychophysiologic disorders: Trauma informed, interprofessional diagnosis and treatment.

Duckworth, M. P., & Follette, V. M. (Eds.). (2012). Retraumatization: Assessment, treatment, and prevention. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Duffy, L., Adams, J., Sibbritt, D., & Loxton, D. (2014). Complementary and alternative medicine for victims of intimate partner abuse: A systematic review of use and efficacy. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2014, 1–6.

Klott, J. (2013). Integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders: Treating people, not behaviors. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Landoll, R. R., Maggio, L. A., Cervero, R. M., & Quinlan, J. D. (2019). Training the doctors: A scoping review of interprofessional education in primary care behavioral health (Pcbh). Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings26(3), 243–258.

O’Donnell, R. (2012). Cummings, N., & Cummings, J. (2013). Appendix I: The Nicholas A. Cummings Doctor of Behavioral Health Program. In Refocused Psychotherapy as the First Line Intervention in Behavioral Health (pp. 276–283). Routledge.

Olff, M., Langeland, W., & Gersons, B. (2005). The psychobiology of PTSD: coping withtrauma. Psychoneuroendocrinology30(10), 974–982.

Schubiner, H., & Betzold, M. (2016). Unlearn your pain: A 28-day process to reprogram your brain.

Van der Kolk, B. A., Courtois, C. A., Ford, J. D., & Herman, J. L. (2014). Treating complex traumatic stress disorders (Adults): Scientific foundations and therapeutic models. Guilford Publications.

About Dr. Amber D. Gray

Dr. Amber D. Gray

Dr. Amber D. Gray, DBH has a career in victim and patient advocacy that spans three decades. She has a variety of integrated healthcare specializations, some of which includes violence prevention and intervention, forensic domestic violence analysis, victimology, and women’s psychological health. Dr. Gray works to ensure that patients receive effective care services, free from retraumatization.

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