As we continue to learn about mental health disorders, more tailored treatment options are becoming available, yet often mental illnesses remain untreated or undertreated.
Trauma-informed psychotherapy is one such treatment that can help people who have experienced chronic complex trauma, which then dictates an individual’s personal narrative longer-term.
“There is growing awareness of the impacts of trauma on individuals in our community and its relationship to mental disorder and distress,” says Dr Anthony Korner, a Senior Lecturer at Westmead Clinical School.
“This has been echoed by increasing recognition from the government that we need adequate treatment responses.
“Psychotherapy is the central treatment intervention for many patients who have experienced trauma, particularly when this has occurred early in development,” Korner says.
Contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy covers a range of techniques that can be used to improve an individual’s mental health.
These can be used for conditions including personality disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, dysthymia, chronic depression, somatization and conditions where chronic complex trauma is a contributing factor.
Like most forms of mental health treatment, including counselling, psychology and psychiatry, psychotherapy is administered through conversation. The intention is to heal the individual and find ways of improving well-being and a sense of self by following a framework across regular sessions.
“There is an emphasis on reaching an understanding of the patient’s condition that recognises the impacts of earlier experiences on development and later mental disorders, working with awareness of unconscious influences on the mind.”
“It requires the clinician to develop a therapeutic relationship and a sense of safety where patients can talk freely and where understanding of past trauma can be integrated into a personal narrative,” Korner explains.
Psychotherapy, it seems to me, also has a creative component which fosters growth of the human spirit.
With over 40 years of clinical practice experience and 30 years dedicated to the mental health field, Dr Korner hopes to encourage others to pursue specialisation in trauma-informed psychotherapy to enhance the treatment of mental disorders in Australia.
I’d like to see a culture develop which supports people seeking psychological help as necessary and normative.”
The study of psychotherapy is of interest to a broad range of people in the community.
“It’s relevant to all clinicians working in areas of health, coping and mental health, who assist people that have experienced trauma (which is a substantial proportion of the population).”
“Health disciplines for whom study of trauma-informed psychotherapy would be extremely useful include psychologists, psychiatrists, general practitioners, social workers, mental health nurses, counsellors and other clinicians practicing in situations where trauma can be important to tend to, such as speech pathologists, occupational therapists and dentists.”
The University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine and Health has just re-launched its Psychotherapy Program that trains people in the Conversational Model, which is underpinned by trauma theory.
“The name change to the Master of Medicine or Master of Science in Medicine (Trauma-Informed Psychotherapy) makes this emphasis on trauma more explicit.”
Korner, the Program Coordinator, explained that the course now integrates short, medium- and longer-term intervention approaches, incorporating the work of both Australian and UK development groups who have been largely responsible for progress in these areas.
“Our program is only delivered on a part-time basis so that health care professionals who wish to improve their skills and knowledge can participate while maintaining full-time work,” he says.
“Likewise, the new program has the flexibility of online delivery for much of the program and the option of distance technologies (web-streaming, skype, etc) so that students can access the program remotely where required.”
“Study in trauma-informed psychotherapy can also be used to attain membership of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy (ANZAP) and other organizations such as the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.”
Dr Tim Foley, a Psychiatry Advanced Trainee and former student of the Westmead Psychotherapy Program for Complex Traumatic Disorders felt that the course he studied in 2017 was invaluable to his development as a healthcare professional.
“The opportunity to learn from world leaders in the field, such as Dr Joan Haliburn, whilst completing my clinical work in consultation liaison psychiatry, was invaluable.
“Due to the very high level of supervision afforded to me through the program, I was able to gain confidence and learn new skills using the conversational model for short-term therapy, in a relatively short space of time.
“These experiences allowed me to grow not only as a therapist, but also has a general psychiatrist. By using the methods of the conversational model, my ability to interact with all of my patients has improved,” he said.