Shattered Windows, Shattered Bones, Shattered Lives

How psychotherapy can help victims of car accident trauma.

Posted Aug 17, 2020

Billions of people around the world are affected directly or indirectly by roadway collisions. In the United States alone, approximately 3 million people every year sustain auto-accident injuries, which often become lifelong disabilities.

In the months following a devastating collision, survivors and their loved ones are often overwhelmed dealing with the aftermath. Survivors may feel like they’ve been transported to another planet where they’re drowning in a sea of pain and heightened emotion. They may no longer feel like the person they once were, and often experience new, frightening symptoms in the weeks following the accident. Many survivors begin to wonder if they will ever get back to fully living and enjoying life. The emotional, physical, legal, and financial effects of a crash can be catastrophic for survivors and their families.

Along with finding and receiving the right injury diagnoses and treatments from caring and knowledgeable doctors and specialists, receiving empathic psychotherapy can be key to recovery. The main goals of psychotherapy for accident survivors are to help them to make sense of the meaning of the trauma from the accident and help them to ultimately reclaim their life. As I illustrate in Recovering from Your Car Accident: The Complete Guide to Reclaiming Your Life (forthcoming) the process can be profoundly positive and transformative for both survivors and their families. Through therapy, survivors learn that they are not alone and gain strategies for coping with pain and an all too often dark tide of emotions; anger, frustration, depression, stress, fear, sadness, and anxiety.

As is often the case when horrific tragedies and traumatic events strike, many angst-filled questions arise for car accident survivors. Why did the accident happen to them? What did they do to deserve such pain and suffering? Will their life ever go back to normal? These are all questions to be expected.

There are no real answers; however, many survivors come to feel that their car accident was actually a blessing in disguise as it led them on a path to an even greater, more fulfilling life trajectory, a higher life purpose, and a more profound sense of who they are. They often feel a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexities of relationships and feel a greater sense of meaning and gratitude for life.

I’m constantly inspired by the post-traumatic growth that I witness in my patients as they create an even more fulfilling existence post-accident. The therapeutic process in car accident recovery humbly reminds us that despite our society’s focus on independence, it is okay—and in fact beneficial—to need others. It’s important for survivors and their families to remember that it is a strength, not a weakness to accept and receive help when dealing with the multitude of emotional challenges after a car accident.

As we often say in the trauma field; either you process the trauma, or the trauma will process you. We can never underestimate the incredible healing power of human connection, empathy, and support in processing and overcoming trauma.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). “Motor Vehicle Injury: Did you Know?” CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/publichealthgateway/didyouknow/topic/vehicle.html

Zender, J. Dr. (2020). Recovering From Your Car Accident: The Complete Guide for Reclaiming Your Life. Rowman & Littlefield.