Breaking Free – June 2023

Navigating Trauma and Health Checks

As the winter months are settling in, this month we are revisiting how we choose to access health services. Many people don’t like going to the dentist or the doctor at the best of times – especially for check-ups which are important to prevent problems later on. Many people wait for a problem to occur, and some still don’t go even then – and those are people who haven’t experienced trauma. Making dental or medical appointments and fronting up to them can be even more anxiety-provoking for people with trauma histories, especially from childhood. If that’s how you feel, it’s completely understandable, this article focuses on strategies to support you.

Many survivors find it difficult to trust people, and especially people who are in a position of authority and power. That is because often their original trauma was an abuse of power, commonly by an authority figure whom the survivor, as a child, should have been able to trust. The doctor or dentist-patient relationship can be unnerving for many survivors because of the apparent power difference between the practitioner and the patient. For some survivors, the pain and helplessness of their original trauma and abuse can be so alive in the present that even thinking about going to the doctor or dentist can be incredibly stressful, and even overwhelming. In addition, many people who have experienced trauma, especially as a child, aren’t very good at caring for themselves. When they were young, no-one cared for them, or they were made to feel as if they were not worth being cared for.

That’s why some survivors struggle to ask for help or even to try and find out who could help and how. It can be hard to feel safe, especially in situations which can feel threatening. These include being vulnerable and exposed in a medical or dental setting, such as having to take off clothes, being examined or having investigations. Some may have had bad experiences in the past in which they didn’t feel heard or respected, or in which they didn’t feel they received the right care and treatment. Some survivors feel that they don’t deserve to be looked after or to be healthy and well. But the reality is that we all deserve care, and even more so if we didn’t receive the care we needed when we were children. Routine health and dental checks are important as they can detect things before they become a real problem, allow us to take the steps needed to treat them or prevent them from getting worse.

So when considering accessing the health system it is also important to acknowledge that there can be lots of triggers in medical and dental settings. However, the good news is that doctors and dentists are becoming more aware of what can trigger people who have experienced trauma. There is an increasing understanding that survivors can be especially sensitive to certain situations and have particular needs. We see some doctors and dentists building their trauma-informed skills, which embed the principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment, into everything they do. Some practitioners are starting to understand that doctor and dentist visits are often frightening for survivors. Many trauma survivors, especially when triggered, can experience strong emotions, some of which can seemingly occur from nowhere. Others have flashbacks, panic attacks, anxieties, different body sensations or strong feelings of shame. Survivors can feel easily startled and agitated at certain times, and numb and spaced out at others.

What is important to know is that all of these feelings, sensations and reactions make sense if you have experienced trauma, especially from childhood. And important for the practitioner to know that as well. Many of these responses can be triggered by the sights, sounds, smells, instruments and procedures which occur in medical and dental settings. Practitioners who are aware of potential triggers can ask a number of simple questions about their patient’s discomforts and sensitivities, and any additional information which they should know before proceeding further. To work out what they can do to help you, the patient, to feel as safe and as comfortable as you possibly can. It is important for practitioners to understand the different traumas which their patients may have experienced, and how readily intense feelings of fear, powerlessness, helplessness can be activated. This way practitioners can work to support their patients to feel calmer and more settled. Practitioners who are personable and gentle, calm and soothing, and who can carefully explain as much as the patient needs and wants to know, can make an enormous difference.

Practitioners are starting to learn about what they need to do to set up their practices in ways which help patients feel safer – both physically and emotionally – with warmer, more welcoming spaces and supportive, empathetic and compassionate staff. They are also focusing on the way in which they go about their work – the way to communicate what is happening – gently listening, explaining and responding to any questions and concerns their patients may have. They are providing patients with the possibility of making informed choices whenever possible and working with patients rather than taking over and disempowering them, all to help people feel and be safer, despite the possible triggers which exist.

Some things to consider when looking for a health professional:

  • It is important to find a practice in which you feel comfortable and a practitioner with whom you feel understood.
  • As a patient know that you have the right to ask questions and understand what is happening to you and why.
  • You can express any concerns and have them responded to before giving consent to any procedure.
  • Tell the doctor or dentist when you’re ready and request for them to stop what they are doing if you want to take a break.
  • Ask to keep the door open if this is helpful
  • If you need support, ask someone you trust to help you find the care you need and go with you to your appointment if you think it could help you feel more comfortable.


For GP’s and allied health practitioners who want to learn more about trauma-informed practice see the training program on our website

Or download our Talking about Trauma for General Practitioners and Primary Care Providers
fact sheet

This fact sheet can also be downloaded and taken to your practitioner to explain how trauma can impact your experience in this setting.

For survivors, more information about the impacts of trauma on relationships and physical health can be found on our website page

National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse

Inaugural grants round a first for its sole focus on child sexual abuse

The National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse are thrilled to announce the successful recipients of their 2022 grants round. A total of $2.99M has been awarded across 17 projects (with an additional to be finalised).

National Centre CEO Dr Leanne Beagley PhD said:

“These grants underline our commitment to learning and sharing widely to build an accessible and robust evidence base. This announcement delivers on recommendations of the Royal Commission and is a cornerstone of Here for Change – Our Five-Year Strategy.

“Importantly, this milestone signals to victims and survivors that they have been heard and that we are progressing with their advice to activate real change for the protection of children and for better responses to those living as adults with the trauma of child sexual abuse.”

For the full list of successful projects go to:

Troubled Feelings

Survivor Contribution

Feelings have always been troublesome for me
Sometimes I feel I’m floundering & all at sea
As in autumn leaves on branches & falling from a tree
There are some who don’t understand, what can I achieve?

Those feelings, bad feelings come from deep within
I try to keep planting new seeds, a new life begin
I squash the feelings down, put them in a bin
“What more can I do or say?” Of the surface skim!

It’s when difficult issues arise & pile on one another
I ask myself who do I call on, my sister or my brother
Or curl up in bed and just pull up the doona cover
I try to distract, is there another way to recover?

Its time to use my grounding tools feelings ever so strong
Being troubled once again, where do I belong?
Cold & winter’s days when the sun hasn’t shone
Will there be a time where my inner & outer get along?

Writing once again in the hope my pain will ease
What of my problems will they ever take leave?
Opening of old wounds I still oft do grieve
This to me isn’t a story of what I call make-believe.

– Anonymous

QUT and Bravehearts Foundation

Call for Research Interview Participants – Victim/Survivor Views of Sex Offender Reintegration

The research project ‘Victim/survivor views of sex offender reintegration’ is being conducted by researchers at Queensland University of Technology in partnership with Bravehearts Foundation. It is guided by a Steering Committee of practice experts, and involves both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and Steering Committee members:

They are seeking victim/survivors of sexual violence to participate in one-on-one interviews and/or small focus groups, and are keen to hear from the following priority groups:

  1. Male victim/survivors
  2. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander victim/survivors
  3. Young victim/survivors (aged 15-25 years)

Information about the study, including how to participate can be found in the Participant Information Sheet here:

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