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Better Understanding for Better Care - Traumatic Stress and Health Care Experiences
June 27, 2016

Trauma exposure is a common issue with the majority of people experiencing some form of trauma at least once in their life. Unfortunately, people with a history of being exposed to trauma, specifically interpersonal – ‘betrayal’ type – trauma committed by someone they know or trust, often deal with many negative health outcomes.

“Trauma exposure can impact how we function in our interpersonal relationships and impact our trust in individuals and institutions,” says Dr. Bridget Klest, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Regina. “For example, trust in physicians has been associated with better adherence by patients to their recommended care. While there is good reason to suspect that individuals with a history of trauma exposure have poorer relationships with healthcare providers, this has not been tested directly.”

In 2014, Dr. Klest received an Establishment Grant from SHRF to further explore how a person’s history of exposure to trauma is associated with more negative views of healthcare providers and systems. Her clinical training at the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, and Seattle Veterans Affairs Medical Center sparked her research interest.

“Through my clinical work, I noticed there wasn’t a lot of research being done to gain a better understanding of whether trauma survivors are more prone to having negative healthcare experiences,” says Dr. Klest. “However, the research is important as it gives us the context required to develop adequate interventions that meet the needs of healthcare providers and trauma survivors.”

Klest established the Social Context, Health and Trauma Lab at the University of Regina, where she works with two graduate students, various research assistants and volunteer undergraduate students.

This study will consist of three related studies.

With the first stage of research complete, preliminary findings reveal that individuals that have experienced ‘betrayal’ type trauma are more likely to have negative experiences or trust issues with the healthcare system. In saying that, not everyone who experiences trauma goes on to have negative experiences with the healthcare system. “It is partly related to how they interpret these events,” says

Dr. Klest. “For example, does negative thinking equal poor healthcare experiences? Or is how we view the world affecting how we experience it?”

Another thought raised is, could any situation in that chain of interactions affect our experience. For example, what if the receptionist at the medical clinic or another patient in the waiting room wasn’t supportive? Could these trigger negative healthcare experiences for trauma survivors?

“These complexities and questions are the biggest puzzle my team is facing right now,” says Dr. Klest. “We don’t fully understand the problem and that is our main goal right now.”

Read more about Dr. Klest’s research in Research for Health.

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