<< Back

How Trauma-Informed Care Creates a Safe Environment for Muslim Patients

May 27, 2022

As crowded as their schedule may be, healthcare providers need to practice “tuning in” to the differences between patients to best care for their physical and emotional needs, according to a paper published by a team that includes the chief of psychiatry at the Institute of Living (IOL). Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, FRCPC, who joined the IOL - part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network - in 2021, is senior author of a team of four psychiatrists publishing “Addressing Islamophobia with Trauma-Informed Care” in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The idea for the paper was prompted by a violent attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, where Dr. Sukhera lived at the time. Four of his family friends were killed and a young boy was left severely injured in the hate-motivated incident, part of a string of crimes against Muslims in Canada. Such attacks, as well as verbal affronts and bias in general, cast a layer of fear over all Muslims, Dr. Sukhera noted. In the paper, the team said caregivers must acknowledge and consider how these traumatic experiences may influence Muslim patients, a practice called “trauma-informed care.” “Islamophobia takes an emotional and physical toll on human beings that health professionals need to take into consideration every time they interact with a Muslim patient,” Dr. Sukhera said. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach because everyone experiences discrimination differently. Feeling marginalized can be traumatic because it cuts at their very identity.” Trauma-informed care is a good guide for all provider-patient interactions, especially with populations that are frequent targets of bias and hatred, he continued. “The most important thing to remember is that we cannot pretend like everyone is the same,” Dr. Sukhera said. He defined Islamophobia as “social stigma toward Islam and Muslims, dislike of Muslims as a political force, and a distinct construct referring to xenophobia and racism toward Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim.” To improve healthcare visits, providers can promote a safe environment for patients, acknowledge the potential that Islamophobia can affect the person’s care, and be aware of relevant cultural, racial and spiritual resources that patients might find helpful. “Invite people to share who they are and how they feel about their care,” Dr. Sukhera said, noting that the Muslim community is diverse and members seek and access care in different ways. The work, Dr. Sukhera said, must be intentional and consistent to be effective. “This is especially true in groups that don’t fall into the norm or mainstream,” he said. “Trauma-informed care could include a nonjudgmental checking-in with the patient through verbal or nonverbal cues that validate their identity, particularly after publicized hate crimes. As part of their patient interactions, he said health professionals should seek to understand the role spirituality and culture play in their patients’ lives so they can reach out in an ongoing way.