Training Targets Those Recovering From Bushfire Trauma

General practice and community health training targets those recovering from bushfire trauma

As part of its work in disaster recovery, Phoenix Australia is delivering a suite of trauma-informed training programs to support frontline workers in bushfire-affected regions.


The most recent training program released is specifically designed to help those working in general practice or community health settings to support people in the aftermath of disaster.


General practitioners (GPs), nurses, mental health providers, allied health providers, medical receptionists and practice managers can all gain practical insights into how to best help trauma-affected patients,”

says Alexandra Howard, Director, Disaster & Public Health Emergencies, who is leading the project at Phoenix Australia.


The program is part of the Mental Health Supports for Bushfire Affected Australians package, launched by the Australian Government.


To date, Phoenix Australia’s contribution to this government initiative has been to develop and deliver training modules for emergency services personnel to help them support the recovery of community members from bushfires. It also promotes their own resilience and wellbeing and that of their organisations.


Now, that training is extending to general practice and community health staff through a practical and flexible program that can be delivered online or via a blend of online and face-to-face sessions.


“Primary care, including GPs and their practice teams, are critical in supporting individuals and communities impacted by disaster,” says Associate Professor Penny Burns, Australian National University Disaster Medicine Specialist and Sydney GP, who has overseen development of the new training program.


“GPs are zero responders, often the first port of call after a disaster or traumatic event, such as the devastating bushfires of our last summer. While those affected may present with a physical injury or condition, many seek assistance for the psychosocial effects from trusted GPs and their staff. As always in general practice, care of the trauma-affected person begins from the moment they enter the door or talk on the phone, first with the receptionist, and then follows through across the whole team.


“A trauma-informed practice takes into account all the interactions a person has, through being in the waiting room, seeing the GP or practice nurse, to a ‘warm’ referral to a local allied health professional. It really is a team-work approach.”


An awareness of the impact of trauma and how to talk to someone and support them is a critical skill for all those working in GP practices and community health services. The course’s core modules include an introduction to Trauma-Informed Care, understanding trauma and its impacts, how to talk with a patient about their trauma appropriately, and helping people deal with their strong emotions in a trauma-informed way.


“The core modules have been developed to help people understand how to apply the principles of Trauma-Informed Care to their practice, how to identify the impact of disaster on a person’s wellbeing, and the training will help staff be able to talk about trauma in a respectful and sensitive way,” says Alexandra.


“Additional optional modules will be added to the program throughout 2021. These will include modules on self-care and how to look after yourself when you are supporting trauma-impacted communities; how to encourage individuals impacted by disaster to make social connections, because we know social connectedness is a factor that promotes recovery from trauma. And there will also be a module on best practice treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder.”


Alexandra hopes those who complete the course will gain further skills and confidence when supporting people in their communities who have been impacted by trauma and disasters.


“Sometimes it can be difficult to know how best to support someone who has been through a disaster like the bushfires, especially when the health service team may also have been impacted. I hope the program helps GP practice and community health settings strengthen their approach to ensuring their service continues to be an environment where people who’ve experienced bushfires and other traumas feel supported in their recovery,” says Alexandra.


“The program isn’t about turning a medical receptionist into a counsellor – it’s not about changing someone’s current role. It’s about applying a trauma-informed approach to the important work already being done in GP practices – helping staff interact with trauma-impacted people in a way that supports recovery.”


Find out more about Phoenix Australia’s work with bushfire impacted communities and register your interest to complete the training by clicking on the button below.