Trauma psychology addresses the ways humans respond to stressors—especially stressors that are life-threatening or have the threat of causing psychological or physical harm. Working at a level one trauma center, Dr. Rajo sees individuals immediately after an event—whether that’s a car accident, gunshot, or another trauma.
Any patient who comes into the Acute Trama Recovery Center with a traumatic injury is screened for related trauma symptoms such as depression, alcoholism or substance-use disorders, and anxiety. Patients are then provided education on common trauma reactions and what to look for, even if they’re not experiencing any symptoms immediately. The healing work starts immediately, right in the hospital room, and can continue after the patient has been discharged. In addition focusing on the individuals with the injuries, support also is offered to relatives and friends who have been affected by witnessing the traumatic events.
“Someone who’s experienced gun violence, or has been a victim of a crime, if they aren’t treated for any trauma symptoms or trauma reactions that they’re having, then they might be hyper vigilant,” Dr. Rajo explains, “looking over their shoulder constantly. But also that can lead to a knee-jerk response. If you’re carrying a gun, then you might feel like you might have to protect yourself in situations that may not actually be dangerous. And so that can lead to more gun violence. Getting people access to services and destigmatizing mental health and trauma recovery is so important, I think, to addressing some of the violence that’s happening. It’s not the only solution by any means, but as a trauma psychologist, I think it is really important.”
While the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly led to a rise in gun violence, Dr. Rajo sees one “silver lining,” which is increased access to mental health services via telehealth. “That is good for so many reasons. As I mentioned before, for many people in our community there are a lot of barriers to accessing mental health treatment, and one of those barriers might be transportation. Being able to access treatment without leaving your home is definitely an advantage. It helps us reach a lot more people and keep them in treatment.”
Dr. Erika Rajo, PsyD, a native of New Orleans, is Director of the University Medical Center, New Orleans Trauma Recovery Clinic (UMCNO), specializing in trauma psychology.
To learn more about the importance of trauma recovery services after individuals experience traumatic injuries, such as a gunshot, to help prevent acute post-traumatic stress and other mental health conditions that arise from these situations, listen to the full interview with Dr. Kendra Outler, MD from MyUzima with Dr. Erika Rajo, PsyD, sponsored by the LSUHSC Department of Psychiatry.