With Mark Creamer
Trauma expert reflects on a passionate career
As a clinical psychologist working in public sector mental health in 1983, I was asked to see a man who had been a victim of a serious armed hold up. At that time, the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had only recently been recognised in America and was effectively unheard of in Australia. In discussing the case with my clinical supervisor, and speaking to my more experienced colleagues, it became clear that no one was sure how best to treat this condition. So began a quest that became a passion and a primary focus of my work for the next three decades.
With recent years, seeing increased awareness about psychological responses to life threatening experiences, it is easy to forget surprisingly little was known about these conditions until recently. Although they carry a heavy cost in terms of human suffering and economic burden, there was a tendency to brush them under the carpet or blame sufferers as weak and inadequate. Despite many references in literature as far back as the Ancient Greeks, and some attention in war time, it has only been in the last 25 years that we have seen a systematic approach to research in PTSD.
My research career began with a large longitudinal study of people affected by a multiple shooting in Melbourne in 1987. Results from this and other studies from my team and researchers around the world have helped us to understand the nature and course of these conditions, as well as those factors that increase risk or protection.
Perhaps more importantly, we now have a substantial body of research evidence to inform our understanding of the most effective treatments. Along with colleagues at ACPMH and around Australia, we developed the national guidelines for the treatment of PTSD under the auspice of NHMRC. These guidelines provide clinicians, consumers, and purchasers of mental health services following trauma with clear, evidence-based recommendations about the best way to treat these complex conditions.
Although my time at ACPMH has now ended, I remain deeply committed to the field of posttraumatic mental health and will continue to hold an academic position in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychiatry and maintaining a close relationship with ACPMH. I will continue to work on the NHMRC Program Grant that I hold in collaboration with colleagues from Sydney and Adelaide. I will also continue to advise government and non-government organisations, as well as clinicians, researchers, and consumers on the best approaches to preventing, recognising and managing the mental health effects of trauma. In short, I will continue my life’s passion of ensuring better outcomes for people affected by trauma.