Startts - NSW Service for the treatment and rehabilitation of torture and trauma survivors  

From the Editor's Desk

We all use dissociation to various degrees every day. Mild forms of it include daydreaming, zoning out or doing things on autopilot – like driving a car and not remembering the details of how we got from point A to B; or staring out the window thinking about what we are going to do after work. These are examples of normal dissociation; a form of self-hypnosis we all experience when our minds wander (usually when we are tired or bored).

Children who have been exposed to trauma, however - including the trauma of war - often rely too heavily on dissociation as a defense mechanism. In the midst of trauma, dissociation is a survival mechanism that protects them during the crisis and afterwards. If a traumatised child is able to function without fully experiencing the emotional impact of a traumatic event, he or she can accomplish tasks (read: survive) until it is safer to deal with the feelings. Deadened emotions and numbness are typical strategies employed by young minds to cope with horror.

How, then, do we help traumatised young people to rely less heavily on dissociation as a defense? This is the focus of our newsletter this edition. I am grateful for the wisdom shared by the contributors and trust you will find the articles informative and helpful.

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Deb's digest
Deb Gould
> Deb Gould is a STARTTS Clinical Psychologist and
clinical supervisor.

Dissociation is:
The stare of the child we call oppositional-defiant, the spaciness of a “daydreamer”, and the brief lapse of consciousness of a child having an absence seizure.

In its pure form, it is none of these but it is a part of all of them. Learn more >>

> Mariano Coello

Simply put, dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. It is sometimes a symptom in people who have experienced a traumatic or extremely stressful event (or series of events), often while the event is happening or sometimes in the following hours, days or weeks. Client sometimes say that the trauma experienced seems ‘unreal’, or they feel detached from what is happening around them - as if they were watching the event on television. It is a psychological strategy to help the individual cope with severe trauma and the associated painful feelings. Learn more >>

Suicide Prevention In Schools

> Rosemary Signorelli, Registered Music Therapist, Psychotherapist, Occupational Therapist, STARTTS

In part I of this 2 part series, we looked at how music and movement can engage and help to regulate the survival system. The focus was on using music to help the child feel safe or to create a balance between the various stress responses. In this part we will look at how music and movement work in the other stages of recovery, to enhance normal developmental processes, and to help children move forward from their trauma experiences.
Learn more >>

Suicide Risk Assessments

> Belinda Cooley, BSW Dip Ed
School refusal occurs in 1 – 5% of all school children, peaking at ages 5 – 7 years, then 11 years and 14 years. It occurs across all socioeconomic groups, and equally among boys and girls (in Australian Family Physician, Sewell, April 2009). Learn more >>
Suicide Risk Assessments

> Alexandra Jordan is a Child-focused counselor and Dance Movement Therapist at Melaleuca Refugee Centre in Darwin, Northern Territory.

‘Freezing’ can be alarming to witness in infants and young children, who in response to a simple stimulus (for example, a flattened tone in their parent’s voice) can suddenly tune out of all participation, and seem unaware of external stimuli, but seem to be making themselves small, listening carefully yet very internally…Learn more >>

Suicide Risk Assessments

When later confronted with trauma reminders, survivors typically ‘replay’ their original response of the trauma event. Sometimes this is characterised by intrusive memories and hyperarousal; while at others the trauma response is predominantly dissociative (that is, the person displays tonic and unresponsive immobility). For readers with a clinical background, Maggie Schauer and Thomas Elbert’s article Dissociation Following Traumatic Stress provides an excellent review of associated etiology and treatment.

Each year many public schools and Department of Education and Communities regional offices host events to celebrate Refugee Week. Learn more >>

Max Schneider
> Max is a Child & Adolescent Counsellor at STARTTS and the service's School Liaison Officer.

Interview with
Mariano Coello

Music in recovery and developmental models

School attendance,
school refusal

Dance movement therapy and dissociation

Dissociation Following Traumatic Stress

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Treehouse Theatre presents "Tree of Life" - a journey through the eyes of refugee children. Pdf

Hint of the month

Are there different levels of dissociation?

Dissociation as a phenomenon could be grouped into three levels:

The first level, everyday dissociation, is the type that most of us experience routinely and which is not generally unhealthy. It involves phenomena such as day dreaming, spacing out, and fantasy (for example, when we are bored or disinterested).

The second level, traumatic dissociation, comes from trauma which is not integrated into the psyche, according to psychologist C ynthia Henrie . This level of dissociation involves numbness, deadened emotions and a feeling of leaving one’s body. This is the type of dissociation we would most commonly find in general clinical presentations.

The third and more complex level, severe traumatic dissociation, comes from major, unintegrated trauma. It involves phenomena such as derealisation (a constant experience of dissociation), depersonalisation (not feeling the sense of ‘me’ or feeling my body as not belonging to myself), and the forming of separate identities or self states.

A comprehensive biospychosocial assessment can help us determine whether dissociation is a presenting feature and which level of dissociation applies.

Hints for Healing welcomes readers’ questions on issues related to supporting refugee young people. Email Max Schneider with the header ‘Hints for Healing Question’. Include your name and contact details - these will not be published.


Disclaimer The information contained in Hints for Healing is provided as an information source only. The views expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the position or views of STARTTS.  The material is provided on the basis that readers are responsible for making their own assessments of the issues discussed, and always work under clinical supervision.

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