STRONGER TOGETHER: The Power of Words in Understanding and Addressing Trauma

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"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the complex and sensitive subject of trauma.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

“Words matter because clarity in words is a part of clarity in thinking, and because some words carry great emotional and symbolic weight, and thus should be not used lightly.” —Jeffrie G. Murphy

These words resonate deeply in today's context with increasing awareness around the importance of mental well-being, specifically regarding psychological trauma and the devastating impact that it can have on individuals, families and even communities.

Almost daily we hear people referring to trauma, sometimes even using it to label or explain another person’s experience. Let’s call this out early: unless you are a mental health professional or have lived experience, we should not label other people’s experiences. One person's experience of trauma can vastly differ from another's.

It is easy to understand why trauma has become somewhat of a catchphrase today. For too long, people have struggled to share their experience, perhaps even feeling misunderstood, unheard, or invalidated when speaking up or sharing openly that they are not coping. Sharing that you or someone you know is traumatised however, is not as easy to ignore.

Sometimes we feel stuck, uncertain if what we have gone through, or are going through, is trauma. It is a loaded word, often used to explain the discomfort or pain that we are experiencing. And sometimes, it is even used to justify poor behaviour that has resulted in a negative impact or outcome. 

Trauma is an ever-evolving field, and this article has a limited word count so let’s keep things super simple. Trauma literally means ‘wound, injury or shock’ and is the emotional, psychological, and physiological residue resulting from a stressful event.

Simple trauma is often overwhelming and painful, and rarely would anyone who has experienced simple trauma, refer to it as ‘simple.’ It is often a single event, something that may be life-threatening or cause serious injury, and may include things like natural disasters, car accidents or being the victim of a crime such as a rape or home invasion.

In comparison, complex trauma goes beyond a one-off incident and generally includes multiple incidents over a longer duration. Complex trauma tends to be repeated, may be difficult or impossible to escape from, may occur within a personal relationship or may begin as early as childhood, and can be something that an individual carries with them through to adulthood. People who experience complex trauma often feel disconnected from the support of others.

Even though simple and complex trauma are similar in many ways, they have some important differences. One thing to highlight is the element of shame and secrecy that often accompanies complex trauma. Simple trauma is usually validated, sometimes through acknowledgement, media coverage or recognition from family, friends, law enforcement or other societal systems.

In comparison, complex trauma is ongoing, with very little opportunity to recover before the pattern is repeated. It often occurs in secrecy and may be accompanied by threats and behaviours that compromise the safety of individuals or others within their family.

Irrespective of the type of trauma, unresolved symptoms such as anxiety, sleep problems, low energy, fatigue or an overreliance on drugs and alcohol will have an adverse effect on an individual’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. As a community we therefore have a responsibility not to offer responses that are unhelpful, judge or blame victims as this further disempowers them and leaves them a target of ongoing threats, violation, or violence. 

Trauma, and the reactions of others, can have lasting effects on a person's mental and physical health. However, it doesn't have to shape their future. Trauma can be treated, and if you or someone you know can relate to the content here, it is important to seek support. With the right support and guidance, the challenges of trauma can be overcome.

If you would like more information about trauma, jump on and check out the resources at blue knot: https://blueknot.org.au/resources/blue-knot-fact-sheets/talking-about-trauma/

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the different types of mental health professionals and the services they offer.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Life can throw some significant challenges and hurdles at us, so getting access to the mental health support and help that we need, when we need it, is important.

Yet when it comes to getting help, who do I need to see?

This is a common question and can be frustrating and overwhelming for many of us. However, the bigger concern is that it is even tricker to navigate if you are experiencing mental health symptoms and have not asked for help before.

In today’s column, I therefore wanted to demystify the different types of mental health professionals and the services that they can provide. It can be challenging to understand the nuances between the various types of mental health professionals, but it’s essential to know what each one does so that you can get the help you need. Let’s dive in!

Psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. They can prescribe medication and provide therapy.

Psychotherapists are trained in a range of therapies to improve mental wellbeing, including shifting unhelpful patterns of thinking, or overcoming emotional challenges. They provide therapy and counselling, but they cannot prescribe medication.

Psychologists are degree-qualified and trained to assess, diagnose, and treat mental illnesses. Clinical psychologists have a Masters or Doctorate and focus on the diagnosis and treatment of more complex mental health conditions. They both provide therapy and counselling, but they cannot prescribe medication.

Counsellors are generally diploma qualified, and are trained to help people with personal problems such as relationship issues, trauma, or grief. They provide counselling and support, but they cannot assess, diagnose, or treat mental illness and they cannot prescribe medication.

Peer workers are people who have lived experience with mental illness, and ideally are qualified with a Certificate IV Peer Work. They provide support and guidance to others who are going through similar experiences, including role modelling behaviour. They can also link you with higher level clinical supports if needed.

Support workers are qualified at minimum through a Certificate III in Support and provide emotional support to individuals experiencing mental health concerns.

Now, what about the Mental Health Care Plan that I have heard people talking about?

To obtain one, you'll start by visiting your GP. They will assess your mental health needs and, if necessary, refer you to the appropriate mental health professional. Your GP will work collaboratively with you to create a personalised Mental Health Care Plan. This plan typically includes a specific number of subsidised sessions with mental health professionals, and may involve psychologists, counsellors, or psychiatrists, (or maybe even a mix) depending on your individual needs.

As Mental Health Month unfolds, remember that seeking help is a commendable (and courageous) step toward a healthier, happier you. Mental health professionals are here to support you, and they recognise that your wellbeing is a priority.

At just 24 years old, Ariah Goodluck is leading the way for young people to help combat social isolation and connect with society’s older generation.

The young electrician recently joined IMPACT Community Services’ Community Visitors Scheme, a friendship program that links volunteer visitors with people living in aged care facilities or who receive in-home care throughout the Bundaberg and Burnett regions.

Ariah’s enthusiasm is infectious, and several of her friends and family members are also planning to volunteer in the program, which aims to tackle social isolation in older people.

The television show Old People’s Home for Teenagers inspired Ariah to join the program, with the content hitting close to home as she regularly observes elderly family members losing friends and family and attending funerals.

While she hasn’t yet made her first visit, Ariah said she was looking forward to forging a new friendship and benefiting from the wisdom the older generation has to offer.

“I saw the difference [the friendships] made on the show and… it’d be nice to bring a bit of light to people,” she said.

Ariah is encouraging others to get involved in the Community Visitors Scheme, with friends, her mother and even her 93-year-old grandmother keen to join. Her grandmother, who is part of her inspiration for taking part in the scheme, is teaching her to play cards in preparation for her visits once she is matched with a participant.

Ariah said she feels it’s important to reduce loneliness in older people, and by taking part in the scheme she hopes to allow them to feel like they have family again.

“For the small amount of time you can give, you can make a big impact in someone’s life,” she said.

Scheme coordinator Heather Hinsbey said she would love to see more young people involved in the Community Visitors Scheme, as they have different skills and life experiences to bring to the table, including the ability to share knowledge of technology.

Heather said: “We ask that you visit a minimum of once a fortnight spending time doing something you both enjoy.”

“You might like to go for short walks outside, play card games, help to write letters or even just have a cuppa and a chat,” she said.

IMPACT’s Community Visitors Scheme celebrates 30 years this year and is a valuable community volunteering opportunity that has been improving the lives of our isolated older people. Volunteer opportunities are available in Bundaberg, Monto, Gayndah, Childers and Gin Gin.

Interested in volunteering? Call Heather on 0448 035 891 or 07 4153 4233.

IMPACT Community Services extends a huge congratulations to Renae Harland, this year’s recipient of the IMPACT Community Services Prize at CQUniversity.

This award is one of the CQUniCares Academic Prizes and is awarded to the second year Wide Bay Burnett region CC59 Bachelor of Public Health (Specialisation), CQ23 Bachelor of Nursing, CL71 Bachelor of Social Work or CC43 Bachelor of Psychological Science student who achieves the best results (highest GPA).

In a letter to IMPACT Renae expressed sincere gratitude for the recognition and support provided through the awards.

“I owe my success within my courses to the rich learning environment at CQUniversity as much as to my own hard work,” Renae said.

“Without the support and resources of the faculty and staff, I am certain that I could not have flourished as I did.

“The financial assistance you’ve provided has lightened my financial burden and will be of great help to me in paying my educational expenses.

“Thank you again for your generosity and support as I continue to learn and advance in my field.”

Renae promised to continue to study hard and hopes one day to be able to help students achieve their goals.

“I am a single mum of three beautiful children, and I work two jobs, one in Disability Services and the other as a Trainer in Community Services,” Renae said.

“I started this degree because of my passion for helping people, I want to learn as much as I can so that I can continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I plan to complete my degree and then continue in my education through a master’s and one day my PhD.

“To receive this support from such an inspirational company such as IMPACT is an honour.

“Thank you so much for not only what you have done for me but for all the programs and ways your staff and people make a difference in the lives of everyday people in the Wide Bay community.”

IMPACT wishes Renae the very best with future studies and helping make a difference in people's lives. To find out more about the CQUniCares Academic Prizes visit their webpage.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya focuses on self-awareness and the benefits of improving emotional literacy.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

‘How are you?’ -  It’s a question engrained in social greetings, but how often are do we check-in with ourselves? And how sincere is the response?

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director
Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Good, bad, happy, sad, angry, tired: these are responses that may roll off the tongue without too much reflection. But there’s believed to be 27 distinct emotional experiences and feelings aren’t isolated – they’re complex and intertwined.  

By expanding our emotional vocabulary, it can become easier identifying and describing what’s happening, how we feel and how to make a change, should we need to, ultimately improving our self-awareness.

The Feelings Wheel provides a great starting point for increasing emotional literacy. The Wheel demonstrates the broad language which can be used to capture human emotions beyond terms like happy, sad, bad, disgust, angry, surprised, and fearful.

It extends vocabulary from ‘bad’ to indifference, pressure, overwhelmed, or unfocused.

To effectively calm yourself down, or change your emotional state, it can be empowering to be aware of your current emotions and notice what is actually going on. This comes from a level of self-awareness which is not always instinctive.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take notice of what’s driving that feeling, you may realise you’re tired or busy and it’s only temporary, not forever.

For some people this is easy, they know how to self-regulate and refocus. But for those unfamiliar, keep a tool like the Feelings Wheel handy (Google to find free version online).

The Feelings Wheel will support you to bring awareness to the feeling and the confidence to be able to articulate what is going on for you in that moment. This insight, this pause to take notice and articulate how you’re feeling, creates space for growth, insight and the freedom to decide what to do next.

It’s also helpful when communicating with others; whether it’s with your partner when you feel frustrated or a work colleague if you’re under pressure.

Pausing, and taking a breath to increase your self-awareness in that moment can be awkward. But using this time to check in with ourselves before reacting can be life changing.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya focuses on ways to create change in your life

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

When we feel stuck or dissatisfied in our life, it is usually a sign that something needs to change as our basic needs are not being met.   

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director
Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

It is a signal, to get out of our head and become curious about what is going on for us, around us and to us.

Last week, we discussed how we can find ourselves accustomed to boredom, simply because we become stuck in unchecked patterns of behaviour and routines that do not serve us. If we don’t break these patterns and create change, it becomes hard to grow.

And it is my belief that if we aren’t growing, we are not really living our best life.

Stepping outside our comfort zone for a road you’ve not yet travelled is challenging – it’s sometimes hard to see that change needs to occur, and harder still to make that change a reality.

Continually thinking about doing something differently can get us caught in a loop where nothing actually happens. We just continue to think about it.

Action is therefore essential – you must go beyond thinking about change to live it.

Forcing ourselves to confront these challenges despite our discomfort, enables us to start.

It enables us to push outside of the limits that we place on ourselves and start making the change that we want to see.

Perhaps you begin with a self-audit, consider how you may be robbing yourself of the life you actually want.

Be honest, what is holding you back? Where are you holding yourself captive?

Once you recognise what ‘it’ is, work out what change you can make today that will release you from past behaviours and create the shift that you want to see.

This doesn’t have to be an immediately life-altering decision. This is not about quitting your job, or dissolving a partnership or jumping on a plane with a ticket to travel the world.

This is about creating clarity, and from that, starting to set a plan for not only the change that you want to make, but also how you are going to make it happen.

It is about taking notice and introducing small and consistent actions aligned to a bigger goal.

Start small with something that you can incorporate into less than 2 minutes of your day, and where possible link it to a reward.

According to James Clear, habits are built around a feedback loop consisting of cue, craving, response, reward. A cue triggers a craving, leading to a response that results in a reward which satisfies the craving.

New habits will start to build and feel worthwhile when they are linked to feelings of success. Our brain is hardwired in a way that it will tell us a new habit is worth it if we start to feel positive feelings that are associated with reward, like satisfaction and enjoyment. When we feel disappointed, sad, or unfulfilled, we tend to avoid doing the same thing again.

The reality is that with persistence, patience, self-compassion, and a little bit of insight into how our biology can assist us, we can enact change.

So, what does this look like in practice?

Imagine you would like to become a person who likes to exercise in the morning, but you find yourself hitting the snooze button and staying in bed. There are little steps you can take to create that AM fitness lifestyle for yourself.

On the days that you get up as soon as your alarm goes off, reward yourself. Even if that reward is that you get 10 minutes of quiet to read the news on your phone before the rest of the house gets up.

Once you develop the practice of getting out of bed, you put your exercise shoes on.


Maybe even do a few push ups or lunges while listening to your favourite podcast or song. On those days when you get up and do some exercise, your reward might be that you grab a coffee or phone a friend on the way to work. That feels good doesn’t it!

The key is starting, because once you start, you begin to develop and embed new routines that support your bigger goal.

What small step can you take today that will get you started?  

By Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services' Managing Director.

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya focuses on IMPACT's recent annual celebration and the organisation's vision - Improving Lives.

The law of inertia states that a body at rest or moving at consistent speed will remain in that same state unless it is acted upon by a force – a change, an impact.

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director
Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Arguably, the same can be said for visions of a more inclusive and safer future.

Action is what can turn an idea into reality.

Imagine a world where everyone who wanted to work had a job.

Imagine a world where everyone was welcomed, accepted and respected, free from fear of judgement, discrimination, harassment and bias.

Imagine a world where children and young people didn’t fear being hurt or killed – in their own home.

These scenarios are the things that the IMPACT Community Services team imagine every day.

They are aligned to our vision of Improving Lives and are the reason why we do what we do.

Reflecting on the last 12 months ahead of the IMPACT annual celebration, it was undeniable that the current environment brings challenges that many of us have never faced before.

Lockdowns, separation from loved ones, loss of power and control in decision-making, loss of income and a loss of connection with others.

Amid these challenges, people are facing an increased levels of uncertainty, anxiety, and concern for the future.

From an early age, we are taught to break problems apart to make complex subjects and tasks more manageable. The reality however is that problems never exist in isolation – they are always surrounded by other problems.

If we think about these intertwined complex issues at a global level, it feels completely overwhelming.

Yet, at a local level IMPACT is dedicated to our vision of improving lives and supporting people to change their world every day.

This vision is implemented through our Live, Grow, Prosper pillars; every IMPACT program and service must fit within our vision and align to at least one of the pillars. 

In reviewing the year that was, the annual celebration was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on who we are and what we do.

Three of our staff members, Clayton, Jarrod and Luke, shared their inspiring stories of resilience, bravery and determination, so that they might be of help to others.

We can never underestimate the power of our real personal stories and lived experience.

These three men reminded us that it is about grit, persistence, compassion, resilience and the learnings, and drawing on all of that to create change.

They stepped into their personal power, which reminds us that even though we cannot always control what happens to us, we can control how we react to it – even when it appears that we do not have a choice.

Leaning into our personal story and truly owning it is a gift.

Their embodiment of our vision and continued growth is the reason we are here.

This celebration also saw the launch of our Culture Book; a new digital experience illustrating the essence of IMPACT – our people and how they epitomize our values.

Much like our organisation, the Culture Book is an abundance of personality, sincerity and compassion. You can view our inspiring staff stories and the Culture Book on our website.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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