In the aftermath of a near death experience at 21 following a hemorrhage in my lungs from a mystery illness, I immediately began the search for the one. Questions like, is this it for me and where the heck is all this going swirled around my head creating fertile ground for deep fear and eventually a recognition of PTSD. A year later with my certificate in hand, and several near death events I would achieve my diagnosis. Autoimmune disease: specifically, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, I feverishly queried my team, where is the one who has lived thought this, how can I connect, I need help.
Authenticity isn't perfect or safe, but it is real and that's what patients need most
We are beginning to understand the correlation between trauma and illness events. At least patients are. Terms such as medical trauma, PTSD and CPTSD, and health anxiety are now common place in much of the chronic illness community.
We often think of PTSD as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It can occur after events such as combat, natural disasters, accidents, physical or sexual assault, or other life-threatening situations. Particularly around war.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a psychological condition that results from prolonged, repeated exposure to traumatic events, often involving interpersonal trauma, abuse, and yes, chronic illness.
At that time for me, I was going to have to walk it alone from that standpoint. Droves of healthcare professionals were by my side, a few good, some ok, some I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.
One thing was blatantly obvious, no matter what they could offer me, it still didn't fill the inner void to connect with someone who had survived through what I was about to embark on. The true care came from the most random people when I was hospitalized. Often it was the person delivering my dinner, or a cleaning woman, maybe a nurse or 2, that would show that human connection that true empathy still existed. It's good to note here that a recent double blind study showed that patients preferred the empathy of Artificial Intelligence displayed over providers. Patients can tell when our providers are disconnected, burnt out, and well, faking it. And the fact we are preferring AI should be a clarion call for greater human connection and to improve something, right?
I would feel better when they would pop in and open their heart even for a minute. It became almost telepathic, a heart to heart connection needs little communication.
And for a patient, that can mean the world. We spend a lot within those hospital confines besides dollars for both patients and providers. Inviting an environment that offers a dose of heart could just be a lifesaver -for everybody.
Why we need peer mentors in hospital settings as a source of care, empathetic listening, and a true feedback loop for the system.
In the landscape of healthcare, institutional peer mentors will serve as invaluable allies, offering a depth of compassion, empathy, and time that traditional health providers often struggle to provide. Their unique role bridges the gap between the clinical expertise of healthcare professionals and the profound human connection that stems from shared experiences and empathetic understanding.
Compassion and Empathy Beyond Clinical Boundaries:
Institutional peer mentors possess a distinctive ability to connect with patients on a profound level. Their lived experiences allow for an empathetic understanding of the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of health that traditional healthcare providers might not fully comprehend.
Research by pioneers like Dr. Judith Herman ("Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror") emphasizes the significance of empathy and understanding in healing from trauma. Peer mentors, often equipped with personal narratives of resilience, offer a form of support rooted in compassion and shared experiences.
Trauma-Informed Care and Connection:
Most healthcare providers, while experts in their field, might lack comprehensive training in trauma-informed care. This gap can hinder their ability to deeply connect with patients who have experienced trauma. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a renowned trauma expert, highlights in "The Body Keeps the Score" how trauma can shape individuals' experiences and responses to care.
Institutional peer mentors, drawing from their own journeys through trauma or illness, inherently possess a level of trauma awareness that allows them to connect more profoundly with patients. Their insight into the emotional nuances of healing becomes a bridge to a deeper understanding, fostering trust and empowering patients in their healing journey.
Studies published in the Journal of Health Psychology or the Journal of Traumatic Stress often delve into the impact of peer support on patient outcomes, emphasizing the importance of empathy and shared experiences in healthcare.
"Peer support offers a unique kind of relationship—one based on empathy, equality, and shared experience—capable of supporting individuals through difficult times." - Dr. Larry Davidson, Yale University School of Medicine
"The ability to deeply understand and connect with patients who have experienced trauma requires more than clinical knowledge; it requires a profound empathy born from shared experiences."
Institutional peer mentors stand as vital assets in healthcare, offering a form of support that transcends clinical expertise. Their lived experiences equip them with a depth of empathy and compassion that complements traditional healthcare approaches, particularly in connecting with patients who have experienced trauma.
As the healthcare landscape evolves, integrating peer mentorship alongside clinical care not only enhances patient experiences but also fosters a more holistic and empathetic approach to healing. It's this fusion of expertise and lived experience that paves the way for a healthcare system more attuned to the emotional and psychological needs of those seeking care.