Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Medical procedures in childhood: A phenomenological study from the adult perspective
by Morrison, Rebecca G. Palmer, Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2005, 396; 3302068
Abstract (Summary)

There have been numerous and significant research contributions to the field of psychology regarding psychological trauma following various forms of abuse and neglect, terrorism, and natural disasters that occur on both personal and societal levels. Even vicarious traumas incurred by the exposure to the aforementioned have been given due recognition. However, an area of potential psychological trauma that has remained relatively unexplored is the immediate consequences and long-term effects of medical procedures. Statistics indicate that experiencing medical interventions in a variety of forms is commonplace. Further, medical experiences are likely to involve physical and psychological discomfort and pain among other side effects, some of which leave lasting physical, emotional, and mental impact on the patient. Yet despite this knowledge, there has been very little research conducted to understand short or long-term psychological and developmental effects of medical interventions on the patients who experience them, particularly from the perspective of adults who experienced such procedures during their childhoods.

This qualitative, phenomenological study explored medical procedures from the perspective of the adult who experienced them in childhood. Individual, face-to-face, audio-taped interviews were conducted during which participants were asked to describe their medical procedure(s) in childhood and in what, if any ways, they felt impacted by those experiences throughout their lives. From the interviews, portraits were written, which illuminated common themes. The co-researchers were four men (one of whom served in a pilot study capacity) and three women ranging in age from 38-59 years who were eight or younger at the onset of their initial medical procedures.

The results of the study showed that there was little or no validation, either in the form of having procedures explained or having feelings attended to during the medical procedures. Also suggested was that medical procedures in childhood are traumatic for some individuals under some circumstances with influential factors being, among others, age and level of autonomy at the time of the procedure, parent involvement, number of procedures, receiving explanations, having feelings validated, level of medical technology (e.g., pain management techniques, types of procedures performed, whether hospitalization was involved or patient was cared for at home), and perceptions of how the medical professionals treated them. The results showed that medical procedures experienced in childhood have life-long consequences such as influence over choices of whether or not to seek medical care as an adult; compromised trust with health care professionals; tendencies to seek out specialized medical knowledge to self diagnosis health issues; and, for some, tendencies to advocate for others in medical situations.

The implications of the results of the study are numerous for the field of psychology and include the need to recognize medical procedures in childhood as sometimes traumatic but likely unrecognized as such, due to the intrinsic nature of medical procedures across the lifespan. Further research to understand variables such as age, gender, types of procedures, level of physical invasiveness, and psychological treatment outcomes is warranted.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Peterson, Chris
School: Pacifica Graduate Institute
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 69/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Psychotherapy
Keywords: Adult medical experiences, Childhood medical experiences, Medical procedures, Medical trauma, Phenomenological research, Psychological trauma, Trauma
Publication Number: 3302068
ISBN: 978-0-549-47487-6
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