Wednesday 20 December 2023

Reflections on trauma

On November 29th, 2023, the EPIC project and the Bristol Centre for Health Humanities and Science (CHHS) convened a multidisciplinary, collaborative workshop involving health practitioners, academic researchers, and students to explore lived experiences of trauma. 

More specifically, the workshop delved into trauma as experienced by clinicians, their patients, and marginalized or vulnerable societal groups, including children, women, and people from socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. To explore these experiences, we were joined by five speakers with expertise in trauma-related research.

In a timely talk exploring childhood trauma, Dr. Maya Mukamel explained how the ambiguous legal and political status of children in some countries renders them susceptible to human rights violations and various moral and epistemic harms. 

This was followed by an exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, where Dr. Lizzie Gourd highlighted the trauma that can occur during and in the aftermath of war. This fuelled discussion about post-World War II Britain, characterized by enduring scars and a ‘wilful determination for closure.’

Other talks explored how trauma is encountered in healthcare and medical education. In a talk titled ‘The Healing Paradox,’ Dr. Louise Younie explored the role of 'creative inquiry' using artistic practices to equip clinicians with conceptual tools for navigating emotional complexities. She also cautioned against resilience-focused medical discourses, which might inadvertently lead to perfectionism as well as feelings of shame and inadequacy. Alternatively, Dr. Younie proposed an approach centred around ‘flourishing’ and finding creative pathways to integrate trauma-informed care into mainstream medical education.

Echoing these ideas, Dr. Jonathon Tomlinson also stressed the significance of embracing holistic patient perspectives, with greater consideration for intersectionality, lived experience and personal histories. Building on this, he explained that trauma typically escapes diagnosis, manifesting in various chronic and acute illnesses, posing challenges for patients.

Concluding the sessions, Kate Binnie, a music therapist, PhD student, and palliative care practitioner, described the relationship between lived experiences involving breathlessness, trauma, and epistemic injustice. In particular, Kate explained how a body-mind approach, employing song and breathwork practices, can help alleviate potentially traumatic experiences of breathlessness for individuals approaching the end of life.

Collectively, these discussions underscored the interconnectedness of trauma and epistemic injustice, particularly how interactions with clinicians can either alleviate or exacerbate trauma. The speakers unanimously emphasised the need for shared concepts and practices to address trauma experiences, benefiting both healthcare practitioners and their patients.

This post was authored by Kathryn Body, a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy, at the University of Bristol. 

Her research is founded on a multidisciplinary approach, combining insights from social anthropology and phenomenology to qualitatively analyse survey data focused on lived experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, Japan, and Mexico. 

Kathryn uses embodied frameworks to create better understanding of the ways people’s relationship with their bodies, other people, and their environment changes during infectious disease outbreaks. She is also a graduate teacher, postgraduate representative, and administrator at the University of Bristol’s Centre of Health Humanities and Science (CHHS).

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