Wisdom of Trauma Movie Event – Questions to Panel Answered

These questions from the audience have been answered below by the professional team leading our panel discussion live on stage. From Rivendell Clinic, North-West Private Hospital, Burnie, Tasmania: Dr Manoj Ravindran(Psychiatrist), Dr Sabrina Maeder( Clinical Psychologist), and Dr Christine Barstad (General Practitioner).

1. How is one supposed to know when they find their “authentic self” if you have never felt or had a chance to form it as a child?

In the movie Gabor says everyone has one. How will we know? Everyone has an authentic self- a self, an essence, a soul (whatever fits your general beliefs). The self speaks to us not in words but in feelings – it guides us through feelings and emotions. When we do not have unconditional love in childhood and/or we go through traumatic relationships and experiences, our main focus becomes maintaining attachment and survival. For that we need to suppress our gut feelings, wants, needs and emotions- essentially suppress our authentic self- in order to survive. When we get to adulthood this often continues and we are cut off from our authentic self. Either we have a created self that does not feel authentic, or we have no idea who we are. But it is there. In a nutshell- the way to find your authentic self is about reconnecting with our feelings, emotions, with other people, finding compassion for self, making yourself feel safe enough to come out. This push generally becomes stronger in the second half of life (35+).

2. Are there people who work with prisoners in Tasmania to work with their trauma.

The prisons in Tasmania do have clinical Mental Health staff working there. They would follow evidence-based practice and would be trained in trauma treatment. However, the prison system in general in Australia is not generally trauma informed and as a system would struggle to properly address trauma. Having said that, the juvenile justice system in Tasmania- and particularly Ashley Detention Centre- is in the process of a major restructure. The plan is to close the detention centre and move to a therapeutic model of care for young people who are convicted of criminal offences. Hopefully this will involve trauma-informed care and have a future flow on to adult corrective services.

3. If my GP says: I’ve relapsed (panic attacks and anxiety) 3 times after coming off medication (Aropax), so there’s no point and to just stay on the meds for life. Is that a valid call?

If you have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder, and have found a medication to be particularly helpful, I would advise you to continue on the same. It would be important that you also engaged in psychological therapies. Most people benefit from a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the first line of treatment from a psychological perspective. The importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle which includes exercise, a healthy diet and reducing the use of alcohol, and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine should not be overlooked. There is robust evidence that medications play a vital role in treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder along with Psychotherapy. Research has indicated that anxiety disorders have a heritability rate of 26% for life-time occurrence.

4. We see so much recidivism with our drug and alcohol clients. Do you think that treating their trauma would stop this to a degree?

We know that about 60% of people with addiction have a PTSD diagnosis and upward of 70-90% of people with addictions have some level of childhood trauma. So most definitely, treatment of trauma has been clearly shown to reduce relapse in addiction and aid recovery from addiction. Also, the addiction itself can often get in the way of successful trauma therapy. However, it is crucial that addiction treatments are at the very least trauma-informed and incorporate trauma treatment as much as possible. Unfortunately, in many areas of Australia services that treat addiction and services that treat trauma are often offered separately rather than in a combined “dual diagnosis” model.

5. What would you say to someone who refuses pharmaceutical treatments because they believe all their ailments are caused by past traumas?

Trauma no doubt could result in symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression appropriately with psychotropic medication is definitely of value, and enables an individual to engage meaningfully in specific trauma therapies. At times depression and anxiety can be very crippling and impedes one’s ability to fully engage in therapy. The majority of my patients who undergo Trauma work have found medications beneficial. This does not mean that they have to remain on psychotropics for the rest of their lives. It is important to adopt an informed view and make choices that serve you.

6. What are appropriate and safe ways for peer support and self-help groups to be engaged in support and recovery?

Peer support and self-help form a very important part of mental health and trauma recovery. Peer work is a recognised discipline in mental health and there are peer workers now employed in many services. Also, just general self-help and support from peers can be a wonderful component of treatment. At Rivendell, an important part of the treatment and healing is the connection with others in the group program. There is power in safely sharing and connecting, breaking through stigma, receiving care and compassion from others and gaining hope from other people’s journeys with recovery and healing. There is a growing recognition of this, and such services are available. There are a few potential pitfalls to be aware of with peer support and groups. For example, care needs to be taken to avoid dynamics of trying to rescue others, trying to take on their burdens, feeling responsible for others. It is about bearing witness and holding compassionate space, and not absorbing their trauma or emotions. Also, it is important not getting specific enough with trauma details that might either trigger each other or invalidate one’s own trauma by feeling other people “had it worse”.