Why can some children and families, after experiencing an injury or illness, bounce back and cope effectively and other seem to struggle? Is this due to the severity of the injury or illness, or lack thereof? Environmental factors? Individual factors? Research has shown it's not the objective severity of an event that makes it traumatic, but rather the person's perception of the severity of the event:
“Events are not traumatic until we experience them as traumatic,” Bonanno told me, in December. “To call something a ‘traumatic event’ belies that fact.” He has coined a different term: PTE, or potentially traumatic event, which he argues is more accurate. The theory is straightforward. Every frightening event, no matter how negative it might seem from the sidelines, has the potential to be traumatic or not to the person experiencing it."
Since the determination of what is and isn't traumatizing is based on subjective perception, doctors and nurses need to remember to practice trauma informed care, especially minimizing the potentially traumatic aspects of medical care and screening for traumatic stress reactions. When caring for children and families, healthcare providers may have opportunities to help reframe a potentially traumatic event. People can learn how to be more resilient by reframing their thoughts and below are some examples of what doctors and nurses can say to help a child or parent reframe and build resilience:
1.) Accept the uncontrollable:
Provider: "In every situation, there are things that we cannot control. Sometimes, the uncontrollable is difficult to acknowledge or accept. What are some aspects of the situation that you feel you can't control?"
Parent: "Even though it's upsetting, my child needs to go through potentially painful treatment in order to get better."
2.) Focus on the controllable:
Provider: "Ok, you can't control the potentially painful treatment, but what aspects of that situation can you control?"
Parent: "I can still do things to comfort and take care of my child and myself during treatment."
3.) Identify and acknowledge your strengths:
Provider: "What strengths do you have that you can use to help comfort and take care of your child and yourself?"
Parent: "I can take each treatment one day at a time. I will remind myself and my child that with each treatment, we are one step closer to healing."
4.) Find / use the positive aspects of the situation:
Provider: "Is there anything positive that you have learned about yourself that you can apply to this situation?"
Parent: "I didn't realize how strong my child is. Seeing how strong my child is makes me stronger as a parent."
It's important to remember that while helping your patients reframe the situation may be enough to reduce their distress, you may need to refer others for additional help. Make sure to join the conversation on our Facebook page to share how you help your patients reframe and build resilience in response to potentially traumatic events.