Reflections from the NZ Trauma Conference 2024

On March 26 th 2024 some of our RJSOC facilitators attended the NZ Trauma Conference.
Here are the reflections from Marsha Jordyn-Mullins.

It was a real privilege to attend the Trauma Conference in Christchurch recently. Apart from
the star power of the speaker, Bessel Van Der Kolk, the Town Hall was filled with people who
choose to spend their working life caring for others – it felt like a safe place to learn,
experiment and connect.

It was fascinating to explore the link between trauma and PTSD, as not all traumatised
people experience PTSD symptoms. For some, the traumatic event becomes an unpleasant
memory, while others find themselves spontaneously reliving the event in vivid detail.
For the latter group, the traumatic event has altered their brain function, causing them to re-
experience the distressing events and the emotional responses that accompany them –
often impacting their daily lives, relationships and functionality. For these individuals, trauma
depletes their sense of agency and can seriously curtail their ability to function.

So why do some people develop PTSD while others don’t? According to Dr Van Der Kolk,
quality relationships with those near and dear to us are a key protective factor in how we
deal with trauma. We heal in relationship with others, and “who is there for us is more
important than what happened to us.”

A variety of treatment methods were explored. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and
Reprocessing), works by rewiring the experience of the memory so that it’s disconnected
from the emotional response that accompanied it. MDMA, when used in a guided, clinical
setting, may allow access to memories that are otherwise obscured by time or subsequent
experience. Dr Van Der Kolk’s research team are working methodically to assess the
efficacy and safety of these treatments, with exciting and encouraging results.

The take-home message for me was that simply retelling the story of a traumatic event often
isn’t enough to shift a trauma response, which is held in the body and shapes the workings
of the mind, we need to take a holistic approach to unlocking the circuits that keep recreating
a traumatic response in order to heal.

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