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Online support for trauma survivors

Photo: Online support for trauma survivors
Flinders University psychology is running an online stepped-care therapy trial to help people who have experienced violence or traumatic events. 

With bushfire and drought sweeping Australia, the online and phone program is targeting people aged over 18 who have been directly or indirectly exposed to traumatic event at any age, e.g. assault, motor vehicle accident, child trauma, natural disaster, etc.

Participants who qualify are invited to take part in the evidence-based ‘Stepped’ therapy trial by emailing traumaunit@flinders.edu.au to organise phone screening, and interview and further questionnaires.

People who meet the threshold for the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) trial will be invited to work through eight weekly topics online each week. They also will have weekly contact with a therapist to help get through most of the topics.
“If you and your therapist think it is necessary, the weekly 15 minute consultations can be followed up with 15 individual therapy sessions of cognitive processing therapy (60 minutes each), delivered online to address any remaining PTSD issues,” says the project leader Professor Reg Nixon.

After the therapy, two more assessments, via phone and questionnaire, will follow immediately then 3-6 months later, to monitor progress. No costs are associated with taking part and participants are not paid.

“We cannot predict whether you will benefit, but people who have received similar therapies in the past have reported gaining at least some benefit,” Professor Nixon says.

“The information gathered will help increase understanding of the best ways to offer treatment to individuals who have been traumatised.”

Funded by the Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation, the Stepped-care trial aims to improve the lives of people who cannot easily access traditional methods of therapy delivery, such as face-to-face meetings with trained clinicians.

PTSD symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Distressing and unwanted memories
     
  • Strong negative thoughts such as self-blame
     
  • Feeling unsafe
     
  • Avoiding thoughts, or feelings and reminders of the trauma
     
  • Problems with sleep, anger or concentration


Participants from around SA or interstate will need access to the internet as the therapy is delivered online via web-based camera.

Psychologist Marja Elizabeth, who facilitates the Flinders study, says the two stages of therapy means participants receive the level of treatment most suited to their needs.

“As a result of this therapy, I have seen people shift quite debilitating symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance and negative mood and anxiety,” says Ms Elizabeth.

“PTSD is not something that you need to live with and manage; it is something that can remit with therapy which can totally change people’s outlook on life.”

The online delivery of the study may be beneficial to people who cannot access mental health services due to distance or those who have concerns regarding stigma or confidentiality.

For example, those in rural and remote areas of Australia have substantially less access to mental health services.

The Flinders Posttraumatic Stress Clinic offers treatment for PTSD and complex PTSD following a range of traumatic events.

This includes childhood trauma, exposure to family violence, interpersonal assault including physical assault, sexual assault and/or domestic violence, and single-incident events, such as motor vehicle and workplace accidents.

People exposed to trauma through their occupations – police, ambulance, firefighters, veterans and active service duty personnel – have also used the services. Contact traumaunit@flinders.edu.au

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