Talking About Trauma

In Australia, millions of people of all ages are affected by trauma. It is estimated that one in four Australian adults are living with the impacts of childhood trauma alone. With such a vast number of people affected, trauma needs to be everyone’s business and everybody needs to be trauma-informed. The guide includes how to talk about trauma in everyday conversations and provide sensitive social support to those affected by trauma.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has drawn attention to the endemic child sexual abuse and systemic betrayal of trust that occurred within Australian mainstream institutions including churches, schools, and orphanages. While prevalent and damaging, this is only one sort of trauma. Trauma also includes physical and emotional abuse, neglect, the effects of violence in the home and on the streets, as well as the impacts of other adverse childhood events such as living with a parent with a mental illness or who abuses substances.

The reality of trauma has entered the public psyche through the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and published research. To reduce the repercussions of trauma in our community, the community-at-large would benefit from being informed about the nature and sources of trauma and how to respond appropriately, in particular when trauma touches the family unit. Families are complex and any interpersonal trauma within the family can cause a ripple effect.

Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President of Blue Knot Foundation, said, “Sometimes it may seem easier to talk with a person we know, yet knowing them well can also be a hindrance. Trauma within the family unit, can have repercussions for other family members and the family system as a whole. If you suspect or become aware of a family member’s interpersonal trauma, it is more important to raise your concerns sensitively rather than stay silent.”

The core trauma-informed principles are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment and Dr Kezelman says these need to form the basis of all conversations, especially with those who have experienced interpersonal trauma. Dr Kezelman advises considering the following questions for conversations with a family member who is suspected or known to be experiencing interpersonal trauma:

- What is my ‘role’ relationship to the person? (i.e. mother, partner, sibling etc.) Are there any power dynamics that I need to consider?

- How do our personalities and roles affect our relationship? How close do I feel to this person and how might it affect our conversation? This includes the sense of safety and level of comfort

- How frequently am I in contact with this person? How does that affect having this conversation, including if I need to follow up? A situation in which you are in regular contact with a family member to whom you generally relate well is different to one in which you have a significant conversation ‘out of the blue’ with a family member with whom you don’t have a good personal connection. In this case the ‘role’ aspect may dominate
- Might I need ‘support to offer support’? Can I enlist this support from inside the family? If not, who might I consult? Note that safety, both physical and emotional, is paramount

Australia is leading the way with the essential guide, Talking About Trauma, Guide to Everyday Conversations About Trauma, which is available for download here. A separate publication for health professionals and other service providers is currently being developed.

If you need help, information, support or referral, call Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 or email helpline@blueknot.org.au between 9am-5pm Monday to Sunday AEST.

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