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How trauma counselling can help people suffering from Australia’s bushfire crisis

January 27 2020
trauma counselling

Trauma shows up in many different ways. Counselling can help.




Trauma counselling is a form of therapy for anyone who has been through an intense or negative experience in their lives. Whether it is a repeated trauma such as abuse or bullying or a one off such as a death, natural disaster, terminal illness or job loss, trauma counselling can help you to proactively process the experience and the feelings that arise.

In the wake of this summer’s bush fire disaster, we have seen unprecedented damage done to our country, with thousands of people displaced, hundreds of homes lost, and extensive damage done to our regional communities and wildlife population.

If you didn’t lose your home in the bush fires, you might have fought in the fires, lost livestock, or simply been on a Christmas holiday in fire affected areas. It is completely normal to feel as though you have experienced some kind of trauma, which is known as vicarious trauma.

Now that the imminent danger and crisis has passed, the mental toll on those involved or affected will continue or just start to emerge. Post-traumatic stress can often emerge and reveal itself slowly, and in unpredictable ways, such as:

  • Obsessing over the traumatic event, whether that be through images coming into your mind or recurring nightmares.
  • Heart palpitations, panic attacks, sweating or having fast racing thoughts.
  • Anger, mood swings, guilt, shame and blame
  • Feeling constantly anxious or generally depressed
  • Have trouble sleeping, being unable to focus or concentrate, being jumpy or feeling ‘on edge’ and always looking for danger.
  • Deliberately avoiding activities, people or pastimes that could trigger painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally detached, and not caring about life, or avoiding socialising with family or friends.
  • Acting out or engaging in destructive behaviour, such as self-harm, excessive alcohol and drug use.
  • Feeling a sense of grief or loss

When you have experienced something highly stressful, it can take a great toll on your psychological well-being. Post-traumatic stress disorder affects around 12 per cent of Australians in their lifetime. Serious accidents are one of the leading causes of PTSD in Australia.1 (Beyond Blue Australia).

When to get help:

It is common after a traumatic experience to have a delayed response to processing it. The mind can go into a form of shock, or you may have the feeling like you are going through the motions of life, but not feeling present.

Sometimes it is hard to recognise trauma in ourselves, but if you notice that your friends and family are giving you feedback about your change in behaviour, your job is suffering, or you are seeing any of the signs outlined above, there is no shame in reaching out to a professional counsellor for help.

Ideally if you have experienced any kind of trauma you should seek trauma counselling as soon as possible, to restore your mind, and help to process the experience, and you can renew and look ahead.

How can trauma counselling help?

Trauma counselling from an experienced psychologist will allow you to understand more about why you feel the way you do, and allow the mind to actively process the traumatic experience.

Not only will you be able to talk to someone who will listen without judgement, but also express all the feelings that you may not have had the chance to express to date.The practical ways that trauma counselling can help:

  1. Process trauma related memories and feelings
  2. Release the pent-up ‘fight-flight-freeze’ energy
  3. Learn skills to regulate strong emotions as they arise
  4. Re-build your ability to trust other people, places and situations that you might be avoiding.
  5. Remove any destructive coping habits you have developed.

Running away from an emotionally challenging experience is sometimes our natural response. We’d rather not think about it or ‘just move on’. This stoic, Australian attitude may have been the cultural expectation in the old days, but in fact the healthiest thing you can do is talk about it, confront the feelings and release them.

Helen Handsjuk is here to help you through this. She is a registered Geelong psychologist who applies dynamic, medically substantiated, psychological interventions for trauma.

Contact her today to make a confidential appointment.