Joan Cook, Yale University – Why People Don’t Talk About Traumatic Events

72ea8dc2-b85e-4616-8236-145b87a90281_w0Why do people wait to tell others about traumatic events?

Joan Cook, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University, discusses reasons that cause this delay.

Dr. Cook’s clinical and research interests falls within three domains: traumatic stress, geriatric mental health, and the dissemination and implementation of effective mental health services in the community. She has served as the principal investigator of four NIMH examining the implementation of evidence-based practices by front-line providers. Her ultimate goal in this regard is to offer empirically-supported recommendations on how to overcome the barriers to achieving effective treatments in the community and to apply such protocols in large scale services effectiveness research. One focus is on understanding means of influencing clinician attitudes and preferences with an equal concentration on re-designing interventions and strategies to implement them to fit the needs and preferences of clinicians.

Why People Don’t Talk About Traumatic Events

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Why do people choose not to disclose or to delay telling other people about their traumatic experiences? Sometimes we’re embarrassed or ashamed that something awful happened to us. We question whether we did anything to bring it on or fear others will believe us or will think differently about us.

When an individual does tell someone that they’ve experienced a traumatic event, they can receive a host of possible responses from the other person — some good, some really hurtful and harmful.

It seems obvious to say that if we tell people about really bad things that have happened, our hope is for emotional support.

But there are times, maybe too often, when after we tell a friend, a family member, a romantic partner about our experiences, we receive responses that are self-serving, unresponsive, stigmatizing or insensitive. Sometimes we are treated as if we’re to blame – told we were irresponsible, not cautious enough, or could have done more to prevent the event from occurring. They may act as if we’re now “damaged goods”.

Not all people mean us harm, of course. People may have very good intentions. Maybe they don’t know what to say or are parroting what they have heard in society. Regardless, these negative responses have been called a “second assault” of sorts.

People’s reactions to disclosures of traumatic events can have significant effects on trauma survivors’ mental health and functioning. While at times, these negative responses can be simply annoying or rub us the wrong way, other times we take them straight to heart, leaving a whirling pool of negative emotions and thoughts. At worse, this invalidation can worsen our post-traumatic adjustment, causing an increase in our emotional distress.

Disclosing traumatic experiences may seem an insurmountable barrier for many survivors. Offering emotional and tangible support to those in need could promote better outcomes for us all.

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