Complex trauma describes a range of distress symptoms that can follow exposure to multiple traumatic events. “Complex trauma can occur following traumatic experiences where escape is not possible,” explains Dr Catherine Chamberlain. “Childhood maltreatment is one example.”
“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this trauma is further compounded by the legacies of historical violence, oppression and the forceable removal of children in The Stolen Generation.
Chamberlain, an Associate Professor at the Judith Lumley Centre and a descendant of the Trawlwoolway people, is leading a world-first program to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents experiencing complex trauma.
“Experiences during pregnancy and the transition to parenting may ‘trigger’ complex trauma responses,” explains Chamberlain, “but this is also an important time for healing and recovery. Parents may not understand the connection between these trauma responses and the original trauma that may have occurred a long time ago. It can lead to further confusion and distress.”
Currently there are no programs that support parents experiencing complex childhood trauma. ‘Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future’ offers a way forward. The project, funded by the Lowitja Institute and the National Health and Medical Research Council, brings together complex trauma research and Aboriginal knowledge to foster healing and recovery.
“The project is led by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers, building capacity and a nationwide community of practice among 12 research partners, Aboriginal communities, and a range of health organisations,” Chamberlain says. “This unique collaboration will result in the development of perinatal awareness, recognition, assessment and support strategies for Aboriginal parents experiencing complex trauma.”
“Nurturing the love that children bring into the world with them and building positive relationships can help to promote recovery and healing,” she adds. “We hope that this project will foster intergenerational healing, prevent transmission of trauma, and improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.”