University of Wollongong academic to steer indigenous trauma program in Australia

Experts planning Australia's indigenous trauma recovery program - Suzanne Gannon, Dr Dominique Parrish, Debra Hocking, Dr Ngiare Brown, Professor Judy Atkinson and Dr Joanne Buckskin. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Experts planning Australia's indigenous trauma recovery program - Suzanne Gannon, Dr Dominique Parrish, Debra Hocking, Dr Ngiare Brown, Professor Judy Atkinson and Dr Joanne Buckskin. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Indigenous health experts gathered at UOW this week to introduce an indigenous trauma recovery program developed at Harvard University.

Harvard Professor of Psychiatry Richard Mollica selected University of Wollongong's Debra Hocking to co-ordinate Australia's version of the program.

The program aims to help health, welfare and law professionals understand the long-term effects of colonial trauma on indigenous communities.

"Evidence shows us that the processes of colonisation, with the loss of land, identity, family, layers into compound trauma and what we're finding as evidence is compound trauma rolls into physical and psychological problems," Ms Hocking said.

"What we're saying to health professionals is before you reach for the script, listen to the story first, even if a person visits for headaches you need understand that it could be from something underneath."

The program's creators hope that a greater understanding of compound trauma will aid law enforcement officers working in indigenous communities.

"In terms of the police it's helpful for them when they're dealing with an aggravated person to know why that person is so angry," Ms Hocking said.

One of Australia's first indigenous medical graduates Dr Ngiare Brown said over her 20 years of practice she had witnessed the effect of indigenous trauma on community health.

"We have evidence linking chronic disease to childhood trauma, adults have a 30 per cent more chance of developing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer from experiencing early childhood trauma," she said.

"We know those early childhood experiences affect the way that you grow, learn and if we can stop trauma right there; you are far more likely to have an amazing life and greater potential."

The group has a week to put a first-of-its-kind curriculum together and interest from other countries has already started pouring in before the project's completion.

"We knew what we wanted to put in from the start so we were ready to go," Ms Hocking said.

"We've got interest from as far as Brazil and we've designed it so it can be used for other colonised countries like Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea."

The curriculum is designed to be confronting, with Ms Hocking justifying the hard-hitting material as essential to addressing trauma issues.

"We're really going to hit the hard stuff and not shy away," she said. "We need to inform the health professionals of statistics like how many nine-year-olds are suiciding in the Northern Territory; they need to understand that it really is that bad."

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