May 09, 2023

Whole-person approach training needed for clinicians and care staff

whole person care
Research evidence suggests that childhood abuse and neglect can be related to very poor health. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key Points:

  • Research evidence suggests that childhood abuse and neglect can be related to very poor health and even early death
  • The psycho-social or whole-person approach has been seen as an effective model by Western clinicians for about half a century
  • Whole-person or psycho-social care takes into consideration the optimal physical, behavioural, emotional and social wellness and outcomes of every individual, including treatment choices and preferences

More researchers are pushing for clinicians and the care system to adopt a ‘whole-person’ care approach as chronic illnesses and declining mental health rates rise around the country.

In an editorial published in the British Medical Journal this week, University of South Australia Professor, Leonie Segal, touched on the importance of a whole-of-person approach when treating medical conditions in older people who experienced childhood abuse and neglect.

Many older people experience healthcare that simply treats symptoms without considering their emotional or historic backgrounds – a key piece of information in providing quality care.

“Many chronic diseases, including severe mental illness, chronic pain, substance use, and physical health conditions – especially those with an inflammatory pathway such as gastrointestinal, respiratory, and autoimmune disease – are more common in victims of child abuse and neglect,” Professor Segal said. 

“We know that people who have suffered child abuse and neglect are more likely to have chronic disease, so we need to encourage clinicians to extend their care to consider possible underlying psycho-social causes.”

Professor Segal acknowledged that we haven’t progressed very far in implementing the model in our healthcare systems. In order to bridge this gap, she wants to see more training and skill development offered to care staff.

“Understanding the person and their family context and their family history is information that can have a very big impact on people’s health and well-being and how they respond in particular situations,” she explained.

Training is already offered to care staff by some employers, particularly aged care workers who deal with Care Leavers, or those who experienced institutionalised care during childhood such as foster care or members of the Stolen Generation. But this training needs to be standardised.

“Clinicians often have very little training in trauma, let alone other care workers, and I actually think it needs to be a core part of training. People who have faced a lot of adversity do need more support and for workers on the ground, it’s important to make sure they’ve got the support and the team that’s needed because no one person can manage all this on their own.”

Have you and your team undergone trauma training? Let us know in the comments.

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