Psychologists Stephen Joseph and Lynne McCormack speak about post traumatic growth at the University of Newcastle

Looking ahead: Professor Stephen Joseph and Dr Lynne McCormack work together in the field of post-traumatic growth. "Depending on the trauma, the nature of growth may be different," he said. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Looking ahead: Professor Stephen Joseph and Dr Lynne McCormack work together in the field of post-traumatic growth. "Depending on the trauma, the nature of growth may be different," he said. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

LEGISLATION should be changed to remove the hoops that police, paramedics, firefighters and military personnel have to jump through to receive workers compensation, according to a psychologist who said the move would be formal recognition of the trauma associated with those jobs.

University of Newcastle senior lecturer and clinical psychologist Lynne McCormack specialises in complex trauma and said first responders with post traumatic stress disorder were usually altruistic people whose jobs had changed them forever.

“We should not be putting these people through the same constraints [as employees in other sectors] to prove they need compensation,” Dr McCormack said. “They give more than in almost any other job because they are serving their community in a complex way, where they are chronically exposed to anticipatory trauma as well as real trauma. Any Joe Blow knows being exposed to that six times a day every day of your life is going to break down your resilience and mental health if you’re not cared for.”

Dr McCormack said many young people thought signing up to an organisation was like joining a family.

“But once they crack at the seams it’s as if they get discarded, they get throw out of the nest,” she said.

She said organisations needed to provide more training about psychological wellbeing; encourage people to come forward when they weren’t coping; and offer stigma-free support and pathways to treatment.

Dr McCormack said the Herald’s recent reports – about first responders who were required to see numerous specialists and felt re-traumatised by the compensation system – showed “a cruel part of the litigious system that keeps people stuck in their illnesses”.

“They should not have to go out as a crumbled human being, they have the right to be believed,” she said. “We as a society need to do this better because people can grow from this trauma. But it has to be all over before they can reflect back and make sense of it – that’s when the post-traumatic growth can start to kick in.”

Dr McCormack will introduce Belfast-born Professor Stephen Joseph to students and clinicians on Wednesday, when he will discuss incorporating post-traumatic growth in therapy.

Professor Joseph said between 30 and 70 per cent of survivors reported experiencing some sort of positive changes afterwards, such as realising their own strength.

“But that does not mean it is instead of distress or suffering – more commonly it’s alongside it,” he said. “Clinical psychologists can provide better help if they understand the full range of reactions, rather than only one side of the coin.”

Professor Joseph said “everybody has the capacity to move towards and find new meaning after traumatic events”, regardless of the individual, type of trauma or support available.

“People who are more reflective in life, flexible in the way they cope with things and have better support systems are probably in a better place after events to deal with what’s happened,” he said.

“But it’s not that some people have capability for growth and others don’t.

“Having people – family, friends or a professional – who are empathetic, accepting, non-judgmental, can really listen and understand from their point of view, that’s the most important thing.”

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