New eLearning program on trauma-focused therapies
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), Flinders University and Evolve Studios have partnered to develop a new eLearning program, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Psychological Interventions Program for mental health practitioners.
The program uses case studies to showcase how three evidence-based treatments can be used to treat PTSD under the Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (2013).
The eLearning program has been designed to give Australian mental health professionals a thorough and engaging introduction to Prolonged Exposure, Cognitive Processing Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. While not a substitute for formal training, this eLearning program enables you to enhance your clinical skills through a deeper understanding of evidence-based treatment therapies for trauma experienced by Australian veterans.
The program contains audio and video to demonstrate important therapy techniques, self-assessment activities to test knowledge and to confirm key points, and references and links to enable access to relevant research and the online resources that are referenced throughout the program.
The program is free and is now available via DVATrain - new users can access it here, using the registration code 'ext'. Those completing the program can print a completion certificate for CPD purposes.
Bridging the gap with veteran patients
Military service can place psychological strain upon an individual. Whilst on active duty, the highest impact experiences are likely to have occurred during times of extreme stress, generally in life-threatening situations. Coping strategies learned under these conditions can be resistant to change because it is associated with survival.
For clinicians working with veterans, demonstrating an appreciation of their military experience can greatly enhance the therapeutic alliance and the delivery of effective treatment. Veterans are more likely to engage with health care practitioners whom they feel understand, or seek to understand, their mental health problems within the context of their military service. Evidence shows that clinicians who do not demonstrate an understanding of the military experience will struggle to develop an effective clinical relationship with veteran clients.
In situations where a veteran appears hesitant to engage with you, or when your own knowledge is becoming a barrier to an effective relationship, there are some options available.
Clients can be referred to the Veteran and Veterans’ Families Counselling Service (VVCS), a free, confidential counselling service for the Australian veteran and ex-service community and their families, with a range of options offered to individuals, couples or families, depending on clinical need.
Alternatively, VVCS group programs may be a valuable complement to your own treatment by providing an opportunity for the veteran to learn new strategies with their peers. Core programs offered include Doing Anger Differently, Mastering Anxiety, Beating the Blues (Depression Management), Sleeping Better, Building Better Relationships, Stepping Out (a military transition program), and Operation Life (suicide awareness workshops).
VVCS services are available to all Australian veterans and a range of current and former serving ADF members and their families. To connect a client to VVCS or to learn more about the service and its eligibility, call 1800 011 046 or visit www.vvcs.gov.au.
To build your own knowledge, you can access DVA’s Understanding the Military Experience eLearning program. This two hour program will help you better understand how military service can affect the mental health of military personnel. The course covers Australia's military history, recent deployment tempo, common mental health conditions, the changing veteran demographic and DVA arrangements and expectations. The program is free and is now available via DVATrain - new users can access it here, using the registration code 'ext'. Another option is to learn more about the military experience of individual clients by reading about the operations on the Defence website. Go to www.defence.gov.au/Operations/
New mobile app supplements treatment of at-risk patients
The Operation Life suite of online suicide awareness and prevention resources is designed to help clinicians manage at-risk patients
The Operation Life mobile app was recently released as a tool to supplement face-to-face treatment for at-risk patients and to complement an individual’s Safety Plan. It is a resource for your patient to use between clinical sessions, including facilitating access to their personal support network when they experience suicidal ideation.
Most people take their mobile devices with them everywhere, so apps are a great way of providing access to support tools ‘on the go’, whenever and wherever there is a need. In this way, the use of the Operation Life app offers an advantage over pen and paper options.
The Operation Life app’s core components are informed by best practice clinical interventions for at-risk behaviour. The app also features two cognitive behavioural therapy tools to help users self-manage their thoughts – a grounding tool and a positive reminder tool. Other key features of the app include:
- Easy access to emergency and professional support services and personal support contacts;
- Advice on how to ‘Stay Safe’ and ‘Warning Signs’ of immediate risk of suicide; and
- A reminder function to prompt the client to review the app regularly to keep their information up to date for emergencies.
The Operation Life app was developed by DVA in collaboration with the Department of Defence, the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and mental health practitioners specialising in veteran mental health.
A ‘Clinician’s Guide’ is available providing a step-by-step guide to set-up and use the app with your patient. The Operation Life mobile app is available free from the iOS App Store and Google Play.
Understanding clinical treatment and future training needs
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is committed to supporting mental health providers to deliver effective, evidence-based treatment (EBT) to veterans with mental health issues. In recent years, we have partnered with clinical experts to develop a suite of resources for providers, including clinical tools, interactive assessments and eLearning programs, all available via the At Ease Professional website.
In order to better support clinicians, we have partnered with Phoenix Australia: Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health to research current knowledge and confidence in applying evidence-based treatment. This research study is seeking to:
- Gauge the perceived and actual barriers and incentives to achieving recognised standards in treatment;
- Understand what providers see as the primary functions of their role in treating veterans;
- Understand providers’ perception of their professional training needs; and
- Understand levels of awareness of veteran-specific resources and services among treating clinicians.
Phoenix Australia has been working with a reference group comprising representatives from relevant professional associations to develop a survey to inform this research. The survey will open in early 2016 and all clinicians who provide mental health services to veterans are urged to participate. Please keep an eye out for an email invitation from DVA in January 2016 or for a notice on At Ease Professional website. The results of this research will inform future DVA policy and drive the development of new clinical resources and the review of existing resources, so have your say.
New resources to improve client resilience
Military service presents unique challenges and risks. Being able to cope with or bounce back from stressful events is particularly relevant for individuals who have served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
While there are a number of mental health apps and websites already available, the new Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) High Res suite of products are the only psychological resilience resources specifically designed for Australian serving and ex-serving ADF members and their families.
The High Res website and companion mobile app were developed by DVA jointly with the Department of Defence, Phoenix Australia and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.
The High Res website offers a range of interactive cognitive behavioural therapy-based tools, self-help resources and videos that focus on building physical, behavioural, cognitive and emotional resilience. It also features case studies about overcoming challenges during training, deployment and adjusting to life post-service, as well as a personal goal setting plan where users can develop a resilience plan, set goals and track their progress.
The High Res app is designed for use on the go. It offers CBT-based self-help tools to help clients to test their physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural reactions to a stressful situation and adjust their response in real time. By scheduling use of the tools regularly, clients can build their psychological resilience and mental fitness over time.
The High Res website and app are designed to also be used in conjunction with a treatment regime. When used between clinical sessions, the CBT-based tools can help your clients manage the daily symptoms of their condition, as well as help them learn new strategies to manage stressful situations. Extra benefit can be gained if clinicians talk their clients through the tools in the app and monitor their progress regularly.
The High Res website can be accessed via the At Ease portal, at-ease.dva.gov.au/highres. The companion app is available to download free from the iOS App Store and Google Play.
New professional interest group facilitates information sharing and professional development
The Military and Emergency Services Psychology (MESP) Interest Group is providing opportunities for professional connection, information sharing, and training development for the wide range of civilian and uniform psychologists who work with serving or ex-service military, police, fire, or emergency services personnel.
The MESP community is varied and comprises clinicians who work in public and private settings, part-time or full-time with military or emergency services personnel, with those who currently serve, those who have served previously, or their family. There are cultural, physical, organisational, clinical, and human factors issues which are unique to this client group and which they hope to be able to educate and inform.
To learn more visit their Facebook page.
All Australian Psychological Society members can join this interest group by logging in to Manage Your Membership and Subscribe online to an APS Interest Group.
Non-APS members are also welcome to join this Interest Group by completing the application form.