When someone experiences a "medical/physical trauma"; a stroke, a heart attack, a diagnosis that necessitates a radical change from 'life as usual' (Parkinson's, MS, ALS, Cancer, just for example) in addition to learning medical options available, patients would do well to receive mental health counseling. The toll adjusting to a new "normal" can be daunting and emotionally exhausting. And left unaddressed, can at minimum, leave one with unresolved feelings of confusion, frustration, anger, depression and anxiety. At most, some patients find themselves contemplating suicide.
An example that comes to mind is that of a man I know - who, after years of maintaining a fast-paced life - (which included frequent international travel, wining and dining clients, constant public interaction and performing in the spotlight,) suffered a debilitating stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak.
Initially, all his energy went to just surviving. More than two weeks in an ICU left him drained and stunned. After teetering on the brink of life and death, he recovered enough to be released to a stroke rehabilitation facility, where he spent 30 days learning to walk with the aid of a walker, to eat when swallowing was severely compromised and to gain some control of his now spastic hands.
Although his cognitive functioning seemed completely in tact post stroke, it was pure torture trying to form words now. Speech therapy was laborious and demoralizing. His once strong, publically-recognized voice, was gone. He could barely swallow. His breath was weak and he was completely devastated. He had to swallow three and four times to get a mouthful of thickened juice down.
This man went from traveling the United States and other countries for business to sitting in front of his laptop in a wheelchair, his only outings those to his medical appointments. His sense of self was rattled, to say the least.
What this man did not understand, nor accept when the subject was raised, was that he had suffered a sizable LOSS. I'd even call it a "Trauma" with a capital "T". There,in essence, had been a "death" in his world.
He was asked if he wanted to meet with a social worker and he declined. Over the next two years, I watched him become depressed and hyper-focused on
what he perceived as a steady loss of functioning (despite the doctor's report of a plateauing in gain). He suffered from fatigue and began neglecting his once pristine grooming. He lost his 'mental edge' (humor, nuance appreciation) from lack of use. This was a downward spiraling cycle.
With any life-altering event, grief is a natural response. When a person loses some of their physical/mental abilities - either temporarily of permanently, it is critical to get the same emotional and psychological help as they have received (medically) for their medical/physical symptoms.
In my opinion, Trauma process and counseling for medical/physical events should be "prescribed" along with other rehabilitation therapies without exception. I would like medical professionals to consistently stress the importance of follow up counseling for their patients. It is my hope that practitioners in our field can work to educate individuals, and families involved, on the benefits that can be gained with mental health counseling post any serious medical/physical event.
Let us teach our clients that for the sake of their mental health, it is important to process and grieve their losses in order to be able to heal from the emotional trauma.
Casey Roake Peddicord, MA is a Counselor and co-partner of CenterPointe Therapists, PC.