Shifting Our Approach to Treating Trauma, Suffering, and Mental Health

Suffering is universal – it’s not a point to make to be dramatic or negative, but to simply be realistic. Everyone at some point will likely be touched by loss, trauma, mental or physical health issues, or some other source of emotional pain. “It is nearly impossible to live for any duration and not experience at least one of the major stressors,” Lilli Correll writes in her book Resolve to Rise. “The truth is, we all suffer at one point or another, and yet we don’t tend to talk about it. We often carry the hurt and pain inside and suffer alone.”

Correll considers these impactful stats on how widespread suffering is:

  • On average at least five people grieve each person who dies; this can sometimes lead to major depression for those grieving.
  • One in five Americans has a mental illness; one in twenty have a serious mental illness.
  • 60% of adults say they grew up with abuse or a challenging family situation at home.
  • One in three women and one in four men have experienced domestic abuse.

The Traditional Approach to Treating Suffering is Inadequate

Though so many people suffering, we as Americans don’t do a good job of processing stress, trauma, or grief. As Correll noted on a recent episode of the You Learn YouTurn podcast, “Our inclination societally, individually, is to bypass things that make us feel uncomfortable. Our tendency is to want a quick and easy solution. Ironically, it’s quicker and easier to go through it.”

This societal tendency can influence how some clinicians and therapists treat people struggling with issues like grief or mental illness. Therapists may traditionally be “trauma-informed” rather than “trauma-responsive.” A therapist who is trauma-informed means they’ve learned about trauma and understand its impact, but it doesn’t change your treatment of the patient. A trauma-responsive therapist can identify trauma and understands its impact but also helps a patient process it. For example, traditional clinical training may inform a therapist take a step back and slow down if their patient isn’t responding. Correll challenges this idea. It’s the therapist’s job to be trauma-responsive, to be curious, to not ignore the trauma but figure out why the patient isn’t responding.

In trauma, oftentimes they’ll say that you have to start in a space of safety first. If the person doesn’t feel safe and they’re acting out, you’ve got to go back to that foundational piece of ‘how do we help make this a safe space?’. You may spend all of your therapeutic intervention creating a

Lilli Correll

How We Can Drive Change

There unfortunately isn’t a simple fix to change how we address trauma individually or clinically, but it is possible. Individually, we may feel stigma around discussing and treating mental health issues and suffering. We may feel weak for needing help or fear we’ll be ostracized from our loved ones. One way to reduce the stigma around mental health and suffering is to have open and honest discussions about it. Acknowledge and fix what we can and learn to cope with things outside our control.

Changing the healthcare system’s position on treating suffering and mental health won’t be easy. Correll encourages providers to start with themselves first, noting that therapists can’t help someone become comfortable with anger or sadness if they themselves aren’t comfortable with it. She encourages the use of education programs that demonstrate how to be trauma-responsive, saying “that’s where we have to go. The more of us who that resonates with, who we get it, who we’re doing our own work, we’re going through it not just personally but professionally.”

Correll also looks to people with influence over corporate spending and healthcare systems to help change course. “We have tons of money that we’re spending on nonsense,” Correll says, and we could be spending more wisely on things that will have an impact on the healthcare system, on how we treat trauma and suffering, and how then people treat it individually. For example, if healthcare executives see a shortage of certified therapists, they might also realize that certifications are relatively expensive. What would the impact be if corporate dollars were spent on subsidizing clinical certifications? “Those of us who have the dollars to spend, we need to be more intentional around being good stewards for that. We have to equip our healthcare system….we have to put our money where our mouth is.”

Lilli Correll is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Clinical Trauma Provider with a Master of Arts in Family Psychology. She’s a healthcare executive and a member of the Heritage CARES Advisory Board. To learn more about Lilli and her book, Resolve to Rise, visit: https://www.resolvetorise.com/