People with post-traumatic stress disorder missing out on treatment

A million Australians are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but a lack of adequately trained mental health workers means that many are not receiving the specialised treatment they need, according to clinical psychologist Professor Mark Creamer, a keynote speaker at the APS Clinical Psychology Conference in Sydney this week.

APS Fellow and trauma expert Professor Creamer, a former director of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, said, ”We have high rates of PTSD in our community but worryingly only around 30% of people seek help; however, even if they do seek help most won’t be able to access best-practice treatment.”

PTSD is caused by significant traumatic events such as major disasters, war, sexual or physical assault, motor-vehicle accidents and torture.

Prof Creamer said there was now international consensus that psychological interventions that involve people confronting their traumatic memories were the most effective.  Of these trauma-focussed therapies, exposure therapy has the largest body of evidence to support it.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough services or trained clinicians to deliver exposure therapy to those in need,” he said.

Exposure treatment involves confronting the traumatic memory in a safe and controlled way, and dealing with thoughts and beliefs associated with the experience until the memory no longer creates high levels of distress.

“Because memories can cause intense fear, anxiety and distress, people often want to escape or avoid anything associated with the event.  Although this provides temporary relief, it is one of the main reasons people don’t recover,” Professor Creamer said. 

Failure to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can cause ongoing difficulties in people’s lives: relationship problems; poor sleep; withdrawal from places, thoughts and feelings; irritability and physical complaints such as fatigue and headaches.  Many people will also suffer disorders such as depression, substance use and anxiety.

Professor Creamer said: “It is vital that we train more psychologists to better recognise and treat this complex condition if we are to meet the needs of the community.”
Professor Creamer‘s presentation on Friday 29 June at the Conference aims to upskill clinical psychologists to implement exposure treatment in clinical practice.

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