Research-based Recovery Information*
for Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse and Adversity


** Period:      till end July 2012 -- This Page

Period:      till end October 2012 -- [LINK]
Period:      from November 2012 till end 2012   [LINK]
Period:      Beginning January 2013    [LINK]

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May 5, 2012 -- Website Blog Launch

I warmly encourage contributions from those with different views, different experiences, and thus speaking from different perspectives, to my own, but I do ask for those contributions to be respectful, and even assertive, of the personhood, rights, and dignity of all people equally.  This is a standard I shall endeavour to hold to for myself. I also ask you to hold me to this standard and to let me know if I fail.

This site was set up in honour of those friends (Wayne) and loved ones (Kerry, Mauretta) I have lost who have suffered at the hands of others who were not able to love and care for them as they should. They will not be forgotten and hopefully this site will help ensure that others will not have to struggle alone along the trail from dark times to mastery of one's demons, greater peace, and happier, more successful relationships.

Medscape Psychiatry has announced that the results  of the firld trials for changes in DSM-IV, to be included in DSM-V, to be officially published in 2013, will very soon be  announced at this year's conference of the American Psychiatric Association.  This is important for followers of resarch and treatment for survivors ofchildhood abuse and trauma, as it should foretell the future of the inclusion of Developmental Trauma Disorder -- [LINK] in the new version of ths Diagnostic Manual -- (see the publications page at the Trauma Center of the Justice Resource Institute for the seminal articles)-- one of THE core issues in our field. Also at the conference will be the results of field trials for changes in the criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and thus likely to affect the treatment of adult sufferers of childhood abuse and neglect --  will you still be a "Personality Disorder" after this year's conference? Will it change how you can hope to be treated?  Stay tuned, subscribe to this blog, and find out.  As soon as I find out, I'll post it here.

One size does NOT fit all for trauma counselling
Not surprisingly, research has shown what many of us have felt for a long time -- our early traumatic relationships badly affect our ability to have a variety of types of relationships, including those with our "formal" caregivers -- our doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors. The nature of relationship is vitally important to the success of the treatment and counselling we receive -- fully equal partnership and consensus over treatment goals and process are vitally important. Even more recent research supports this -- Johnson, 2012 [LINK]

In the Feeny et al (2012) study, patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)  and comorbidities of major depressive disorder (MDD)  or childhood sexual abuse (CSA)  were found to be particularly sensitive to not getting their treatment of choice, with this effect predictive of poorer treatment outcome. "What seems to be driving impaired recovery is not getting the treatment you want, and in certain subgroups you see a particularly robust impact of this discrepancy," principal investigator Norah Feeny, PhD, director of the PTSD Treatment and Research Program, Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, told delegates attending the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) 32nd Annual Conference. "A one-size-fits-all approach is not going to continue to work for the treatment of PTSD." -- [LINK]

Readers may also be interested in an early study on factors affecting client-therapist alliance early in treatment for PTSD, including clients' experience of childhood trauma -- Keller, Zoellner & Feeny (2010) -- [LINK]

This list was started to represent the interests of those who were abused as children, regardless of how they  were abused or neglected. Past research has shown that different types of abuse tend to occur together -- if you're sexually abused, you're likely to be emotionally abused, too, for example.  (Pears, Kim & Fisher, 2008 -- [LINK]) Some recent research has found that different combinations of abuse tend to produce different types of problems for people.

Continuing the work of Pears, Kim and Fisher, Berzenski and Yates (2012) -- [LINK] studied a large number undergraduate students who reported on childhood maltreatment and current adjustment. Results suggested that specific combinations of different types of abuse have different associations with different outcomes. Emotional abuse, alone or in combination with other types of abuse, was especially  related to psychopathology  (e.g., anxiety, depression), while a combination of physical and emotional abuse was most strongly associated with conduct-related problems (e.g., substance use, risky sexual behavior). These findings have significance for understanding and classifying experiences of maltreatment.

May 6, 2012 -- Biology or Experience -- Which came first?
Biological disorder or childhood trauma as causes of adult mental illness -- does childhood abuse contribute to the development of mental disorder, or does neurophysiological disorder make one more likely to suffer mental disorder? Or does pre-existing biological vulnerabilities interact with childhood abuse to lead to later adult mental disorders such as major depression (MDD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). This is a crucially important question in terms of how patients, sufferers of "abuse induced" mental illness, are regarded by care providers. It could affect whether or not abuse-related disorder is regarded as an "adjustment disorder", or as other types of disorder, such as BPD or MDD. Considerable research in the past, examining factors related to "hardiness", have suggested that pre-existing vulnerabilities are what's fundamentally the cause of such mental illnesses.

Recent research by Carvalho Fernando and colleagues -- [LINK] , from Blefeld Hospital, Germany, has compared healthy control participants to BPD and MDD patients and found that such patients exhibited both enhanced cortisol concentrations before and after the administration of 0.5mg dexamethasone. Higher cortisol levels were positively correlated with a history of childhood trauma, current dissociative symptoms and severity of borderline and depressive symptoms. Statistical prediction (regression analyses) revealed that some aspects of early trauma were associated with cortisol release before and after dexamethasone, whereas psychopathology did not contribute to the regression model. Thus, these researchers argue, the well known disturbances in neurophysiological (HPA) function associated with MDD, BPD, and also likely PTSD, appear to be related to childhood trauma rather than to psychopathology in adulthood. Exposure to childhood trauma thus may contribute to long-lasting alterations in HPA activity and might enhance the risk for the development of later mental disorder -- the causal chain would then be:  childhod trauma -> neurophysiological dysfunction -> adult mental disorders -- rather than neurophysiological dysfunction + childhood trauma -> adult mental disorders -- which would seem to highlight the essential need to prioritise treatment the effects of childhood trauma rather than to treat neurophysiological dysfunction (through drugs) alone, which is particularly problematic, given the often limited range of treatments available -- see my previous post, regarding the importance of need for, and provision of, choices of treatment and this study -- [LINK]

May 10. 2012 -- Psychiatric Mislabeling Is Bad For Your Mental Health
.. in fact it can be soul destroying!

The title to today's post was the headline on today's version of Dr Allen Frances blog on Psychology Today - DSM-V In Distress -- [LINK]. It has particular relevance for adult survivors of childhood trauma for which there is currently no accepted diagnostic label. Dr Frances was chair of the taskforce for the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) and was commenting on the results of field trials of the reliability of diagnostic criteria for the upcoming Fifth Edition of the Manual (DSM-V), which showed that even criteria for "well-accepted" diagnoses such as Major Depressive Disorder are performing well below acceptable standards. This certainly does not bode well for the future diagnostic status for disorders caused by childhood trauma and neglect.  Dr Frances, a psychiatrist himself, wasn't speaking "out of turn".

 As Dr Frances notes: "An inaccurate diagnosis can be a disaster- leading not only to inappropriate treatment but also to stigma, ruined self confidence, reduced ambition, needless worries, despair about the future, and a deeply injured sense of self"; This is one of the factors that motivated the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to see a new diagnosis introduced in DSM V  "Developmental Trauma Disorder" -- [LINK] for child and adolescent victims of abuse and neglect.  I would argue that the plight of adults with such disorders is even worse than that children -- adults are much less likely to receive childhood trauma-related treatment, and untreated effects of disturbed attachment, such as caused by childhood abuse and neglect, can last all a person's life, even up to the time they start dementing! (Browne & Schlosberg, 2006) -- [LINK]. Along the way such adults can attract diagnoses of  "Personality Disorder (especially Borderline PD -- a particularly stigmatising diagnosis), "Adjustment Disorder", "Alcohol Dependence", "Addiction", and not just (in fact rarely) the diagnosis "Postrraumatic Stress Disorder" -- all, to varying degrees, stigmatising diagnoses  -- not surprisingly, those charged with diagnosing (psychiatrists) are amongst the foremost people stigmatising adults presenting with problems arising from childhood trauma.(Adams, 2010 -- [LINK]; Jutel, 2009 -- [LINK],Lincoln, 2006 -- [LINK]).

Adult survivors of childhood adversity and trauma are well known to have substantially limited and impaired lives as a result of their childhood experiences (Goodman, Joyce, & Smith, 2011 -- [LINK]; Smith & Smith, 2010 -- [LINK]). And that is without the psychological effects of psychiatric diagnosis, and especially without the effects of inaccurate psychiatric diagnosis. It may be "natural" (or lazy and judgemental?) to slot people into categories, and not think of them outside those categories (especially not as people from and within particular contexts), but people ARE people, they ARE not the problem -- best expressed in the title of the article by Michalak -- [LINK]: "It's something that I manage but it is not who I am".  Yet all too often, that's how adult survivors of childhood trauma are regarded. Why do psychiatrists so stigmatise adult survivors? (for a discussion of psychiatric stigma associated with personality disorder see Nehls -- [LINK], and Lincoln -- [LINK]). Well, we don't make "good patients" --  we often have difficulty REALLY talking about our problems (though we can skim the surface and give the appearance that we are when we're not -- we're too burdened by shame to really say what we're doing "wrong" so we can cope), we DO all those socially unpleasant things like abuse alcohol and other drugs, we do things impulsively like commit silly crimes -- my brother stole to try to buy so-called friends -- we're often "not compliant" with the treatments psychiatrists prescribe, we often don't respond all that well to the treatments (usually drugs) that psychiatrists prescribe, we often know more about "the problem" than what they do, we're generally not all that good at so-called therapeutic relationships, or any sort of relationships, especially when those relationships are really under somebody else's control -- something so well described in van der Kolk's 2005 article -- [LINK].

How can we try to avoid the problems associated with "mislabeling" -- first, and foremost, try to avoid the problem of growing up with psychological disorders as a result of childhood trauma. If you already suffer from those, or you're trying to avoid future problems, try to find your own "place of safety" -- especiallly one that's thought "healthy" by psychiatrists, and most importantly, if you can, stay well clear of psychiatrists -- my next post will be on "Finding a Place of Safety".

May 28, 2012 -- Finding a place of safety -- or not! -- at Ashburn!!
Last time, I promised to provide some guidelines about "finding a place of safety", well, as you've seen from "My Story" I believe in being honest! and you know I've sought help from hospitals before -- that includes from Dunedin's Ashburn Clinic!  Well, sadly, fat lot of good, and risky, that turned out to be.  I tried to kill myself a week after getting out of Ashburn, and you know I hope you can learn from my experience, and I've dedicated my site to "Wayne", someone I knew from Ashburn, who killed himself in August of last year. I met Wayne in Ashburn, we grew to be friends, largely because of how helpful he was to me, and how unfortunately similar our time, and experience, in Ashburn turned out to be be.

So, what's wrong with Ashburn?!

So, so far as "finding a place of safety", the first and most important thing is to not put yourself in a more difficult position than you  were in originally -- Ashburn IS a far worse place than you're in, if you're in recovery, and no longer being sexually or physically abused. Many nursing staff go there, rather than local services, in a wish to avoid the stigma rife in the system if you're a working professional (Adams, et al 2010 -- ), but quickly (like overnight!) leave as soon as they have their first experience of Ashburn. But, if you've suffered complex trauma, or emotional abuse, going to Ashburn will be yet a continuation of your history of abuse.

Come on Ashburn -- and you psychiatrists there!  Challenge me and my "allegations" above in a court of law, but respect my right to my records so I can fight my case!  No challenge means no contest.

Not surprisingly, the guts have been ripped out of Ashburn in recent years -- the lion's share of its income used to come from ACC due to clients with sensitive claims receiving counselling there -- this doesn't happen anymore, due to "financial" reasons -- Ashburn couldn't justify its treatments for ACC clients.  Ashburn -- a lovely location, a great, much needed, potential service, but currently going to waste in the hands of its psychiatrist / administrators.

As my website users will know, this post, and its more positive recommendations, have been delayed by a more thorough review of meta-analytic studies looking at treatment outcome studies for trauma and complex trauma -- more on the results of that in my next post!


Adams, E. F. M., Lee, A. J., Pritchard, C. W., & White, R. J. E. (2010). What stops us from healing the healers: a survey of help-seeking behaviour, stigmatisation and depression within the medical profession. The International journal of social psychiatry, 56(4), 359–370. doi:10.1177/0020764008099123

Bateman, A. W., & Fonagy, P. (2003). The development of an attachment-based treatment program for borderline personality disorder. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 67(3), 187–211.

Flückiger, C., Del Re, A., Wampold, B. E., Znoj, H., Caspar, F., & Jörg, U. (2012). Valuing clients’ perspective and the effects on the therapeutic alliance: A randomized controlled study of an adjunctive instruction. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59(1), 18–26. doi:10.1037/a0023648

Linehan, M. M., Dimeff, L. A., Reynolds, S. K., Comtois, K. A., Welch, S. S., Heagerty, P., & Kivlahan, D. R. (2002). Dialectical behavior therapy versus comprehensive validation therapy plus 12-step for the treatment of opioid dependent women meeting criteria for borderline personality disorder. Drug and alcohol dependence, 67(1), 13–26.

Spermon, D., Darlington, Y., & Gibney, P. (2010). Psychodynamic psychotherapy for complex trauma: targets, focus, applications, and outcomes. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 3, 119–127.

June 21, 2012 -- Finding a place of safety -- or the experience of quiet peace
My apologies for taking so long to write this post -- I think I was expecting too much of myself, after seeing posts like the following from Storied Mind -- [LINK] -- I didn't "feel" as if that was THE answer, and I think I was expecting myself to provide you with THE answer to how to find THE place of safety for yourself, as if THE place of safety really exists, for anyone!  I'm sorry, I don't believe that now. I think the reason I was finding it so hard was because I knew I had lost A "place" of safety and no longer felt as if I had one, with loss of my work status, my inability to pursue formal study -- both crucial in "escaping" from my early adverse family circumstances and finding a grounding in the "normal" world.

But, of course, and thankfully, there is no such thing as "a place of safety", there are certainly "places" where we feel safer, but this feeling, of safety, of security, of the sort of peace referred to in the Storied Mind blog, really have nothing to do with "places" (though we can and often do unconsciously respond with greater feelings of inner peace to some circumstances in some places).  And it really has nothing to do with a supernatural ability to "stop time".  Rather our relationship with time alters, and we can develop this ability to alter our relationship with time, so that we become more able, and more flexible, in the range of experiences we can have with time; and we can develop the ability to bring about this change IN A MOMENT.  Therein lies the first part of the key "in A moment", or rather THE moment  -- yes, I'm talking about -- MINDFULNESS, mindfulness in the present moment, mindfulness of the present moment, the sense of time stopping comes from the fact that you're just less mindful of the past experiences you've had, you're less aware of the future experiences you may be afraid of, not that these inner experiences go away, but your relationship with them is different, you're less invested, emotionally and intellectually, in them.

Just how did I come about this greater sense of peace? -- because I truly had been experiencing a period of great emotional distress. 

I became actively involved in taking action in the service of values I hold dear. I communicated to others my feelings about my past experience of sexual abuse, and my current circumstances -- communication in such a way can sure do a lot to help one confront and accept the feelings one has been avoiding for so long; and engaging in committed action can help one feel worthwhile, valid, and doing something worth doing -- that you, as you are, can still do something worth doing, even in the context of NOT having your previous place of safety -- you can be very afraid, yet still carry on, on faith -- like Lou Reed said in his song "you gotta have faith",  even when all those socially conventional things aren't deliverin', you can still go on.

What am I doing that's values based?  My friend, Wayne, a victim of childhood abuse and trauma died in August last year, he was a "male survivor of sexual abuse", and I hope to contribute to the story of survivors of childhood abuse becoming better known and understood. Coming up, I think on Saturday 30th June, is a newspaper story -- I spent some time yesterday talking to a journo from the Otago Daily Times, here in Dunedin, and he's writing a story about the experience of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and this will be your chance to see me "in the flesh" -- I'm seeing a photographer tomorrow, as I've given my consent for both my name and my photograph to be included with the story.

And the feelings? Well, put it like this -- there's a metaphor in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy about "leaves on a stream" -- the feelings are like the leaves, it's not that they don't touch, and don't disturb, the surface of the water, but the water flows along on its course, "where it's supposed to go", where it wants to go, given the nature of the water. And yes, it does help with those unpleasant feelings, although that's not WHY I'm taking the valued action -- it's just my experiencing a side effect of taking the action. And it doesn't come immediately, but it's at least potentially available to me WHEREVER I am, it's not dependent on a "place" of safety.

June 26, 2012 -- Psychologists Board -- Shame on You!!
So you've decided you should go and see someone to get some help -- your problems have finally caused you to suffer a toll you're not wanting to pay anymore -- job, relationship, substance abuse, suicide attempt, a friend committed suicide and you've decided that shouldn't have needed to happen -- like what happened to me, to get me to start this blog / website.  But, you've been abused by those in positions of power in the past, so who can you trust -- let's see.

I was seeing a psychologist from the Dunedin Hospital service for counselling, Simon Kuttner, but certain things became evident (like his acting without supervision) so I stopped seeing him and lodged a complaint for "inadequate and inappropriate treatment" with the HDC and the Psychologists Board. In the course of the  enquiry, whcich went nowhere, Kuttner revealed details from my clinical  record, despite being given explicit instructions NOT to do so.  This never resulted in any action being taken by any "responsible" party, like the Psychologists Board.  So, if you wish to see someone, whatever you do, treat it as a business decision -- caveat emptor!  Only problem will be that if something goes "wrong", short of your being the victim of a crime, stiff cheese! 

The Health & Disability Commissioner acts as an apologist (that's someone who gives half-baked excuses, not someone who makes apologies);  the professional boards defend their members (fee-paying members), not the Public, and the so-called "professionals", well, not very professional -- part of the defining characteristic of a professional is that they have a body of knowledge, and a set of language and reasoning skills based on that knowledge, that distinguishes them from the general public . Well, what if they prefer following half-baked philosophical mumbo jumbo that's anti-scientific? Well, that's what the Psychologists Board of New Zealand allowed Simon Kuttner to foist on this innocent guy, no questions asked, no need for justification. Never worry about the fact that it's actually against that Board's Code of Ethics for Psychologists to pressure clients to swallow the psychologist's pet philosophies, free of scientific basis -- Simon, you see, practises a form of philosophy   called Anthroposophy --  look that up in Wikipedia and you'll see many of its practitioners regard it as a religion;  and then see what Wikipedia says about its approach to Science -- definitly NOT pro-Science, and this is someone who is obligated to base his approach on scientific evidence?!  A glaring contradiction between professed philosophy and actual practice.  In actual practice, Kuttner's skills are so poor that, were he to have studied Psychology when I did, he would not have passed second-year counselling, let alone be allowed to practise professionally, But, then again, it's that fee-paying thing --- only this time, the University that allowed him to graduate.  And clients, in the Public system, don't pay fees, so should they have to be grateful for ANYTHING they get, well obviously, Kuttner and the Psychologists Board think so.

And Kuttner complained that I had allegedly improperly investigated him on the internet -- well, as you can see, I am who I am, it's (mostly) all out there in the public arena, on the internet, and so far as what constitutes "improper investigation" -- at no time have I sought private, confidential information ahout him, and like everything else, he needs to improve his knowledge of professional matters -- look here about information it's proper, and prudent I would suggest, to find out about your therapist:  [LINK]-- yes, that's right -- therapists have a right to confdentiality, and there are definite limits on what they can claim is confidential -- so, you don't have to be as up-front public as I am, but you, and therapists, can't claim confidentiality for those same things you claim public credit for! As Kuttner did for his charitable activities with Antroposophy --  good works for ill-perceived "reasons", but more likely just self-aggrandisement.  Clinical records, though, ARE, confidential, Kuttner.

And Psychologists Board? -- shame on you for allowing these things to occur, and for abrogating your responsibility for not ensuring adequate quality of care for THIS member of the Public.  Not only Kuttner needs to be reminded of ethical responsibilities, but especiallly the Board.

Both Ashburn Clinic (see my earlier post),  and the NZ Psychologists Board have been made aware of my posts on this website concerning their actions, or lack of them.  So, what?  I'd like to encourage readers to check out this song by Elena Mitrano on YouTube: [LINK]  -- you're not alone.  YOUR VOICE deserves to be heard, and MUST be heard -  you WILL stand a bettwr chance of recovery if it is. 

van der Kolk's great paper on Developmental Trauma Disorder -- [LINK] -- has so far failed to yield the changes sought -- this is what motivated this site -- inadequate and inappropriate treatments being meted out to the sufferers of trauma-related disorders everyday -- why?!   Why did everyone say, when I presented my Ph.D. research proposal to them "it's not in my backyard" (so why should I do anything about it?), or "Russell, you're too far ahead of the game" -- except that YOU are the ball being kicked around in the game -- the "real players" -- the HDC, the Psychologists Board, Kuttner, will go off and have a beer together after "the game" is over, and won't attend our funerals, so, are we alone, not so long as we are there for each other.

I'd like to leave you with a quote from Judith Herman,
"originator" of the term "Complex Trauma":

"It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil.  The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement and remembering."   (Herman, 1992)
-- [LINK]

And the likes of the HDC, the Psychologists Board, Kuttner, they take the on the role of the perpetrator -- You gotta have  faith, in yourself, in yourself, because YOU know the truth of what was done to you, and YOU CAN see this through. Just as well. because you'll have to do it despite the actions of those at Ashburn Clinic, with the HDC, at the Psychologists Board, or at the hands of shonks like Kuttner.

June 30, 2012 -- Consequences of Biological Vulnerability
In a paper sure to please many psychiatrists, with a propensity to always place biological factors at the forefront of arguents for the causes of mental illness, and albeit in a paper written by those with financial interests in drug treatments, Saveanu and Nemeroff (2012) -- [LINK] -- available [LINK] -- argue that sufferers of childhood trauma-related depression may have a genetic vulnerability so that they may be responsive to different treatment strategies than depressed patients without childhood adversity. Based on current findings, they argue, treatment strategies should be multimodal and include the following:

(Of course, these are also consistent with those of van der Kolk originally for children and adolescents -- [LINK].)

The recommendations are certainly consistent with the recommendations of the expert panel surveyed by Cloitre et al (2011) --- [LINK]- available [LINK].  What is missing from Cloitre et al's statement, concerning needed duration of treatment, but is more clearly spelled out in that of Saveanu and Nemeroff, is the likely need for longer term treatment, provided that that treatment is tailored to the specific needs of the patient, identified by comprehensive assessment across a number of areas of functioning; likely "staged", so that "treatment enabling" goals of intervention are targeted initially (for example, targeting emotion regulation initially -- e.g., Cloitre [LINK] -- available [LINK]). Of course, this is also the result found by Kriedler and Einsporn (2012) -- [LINK] .  These authors' study sample included women from 6-month therapy groups (n = 42) and a comparison group who completed 12 months of therapy (n = 114). When outcomes attained by the 6-month group were compared with those of the 12-month group, those in the 6-month group showed significantly greater gains in self-esteem, symptom change, and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. In addition, although participants in the 6-month group improved more in depression scores than those in the 12-month group, the difference was not statistically significant. The results of this study indicate that intensive 6-month group therapy for female survivors of CSA may be even more beneficial than less intensive 12-month groups. It is likely that treatment for Complex Trauma may be longer.

Consideration of the overall results of Cloitre et al, Saveanu and Nemeroff, and Kriedler and Einsporn, go a long way towards defining what is adequate and appropriate treatment for childhood trauma related disorders (whether the disorder be PTSD or chronic / remitting depression -- there are some indications that gender may be one factor determining whether or not the resulting disorder is one or the other -- see my initial thesis proposal).  Moreover, they go a long way towards making the limit allowed on therapy sessions by the ACC, in NZ (16 sessions), look woefully inadequate. In the last 12 months, of 1151 men who have received ACC "Sensitive Claim" counselling, only 2 (two) have been approved for more than 16 sessions.  The results of this research also make the "treatment" offered by Dunedin's Ashburn Clinic (see my earlier post on this -- [LINK]) look the farce it is, especially the so-called treatment offered to male patients there.  But very clearly, the research also clearly reflects the fact that intensive treatment, as Ashburn Clinic SHOULD be offering,along the lines outlined by Saveanu and Nemeroff, is definitely needed.

July 4, 2012 -- Anxious Depression -- Medication?
In my last post, I reviewed the recommendations of Saveanu and Nemeroff (2012).

Today, I'd like to briefly discuss one of them:

The "standard" drugs used to treat PTSD / trauma are the SSRI anti-depressants.  These rarely work all that well, at least in my experience. The most "success" I've had is with a combination of Venlafaxine (Effexor) and Buproprion (Zyban) -- the latter being "good" due to its managing the anxiety symptoms I suffer. Generally, though, my attitude tends to be the same as that of my fellow blog writer John on "Storied Mind" -- [LINK] -- "stay off 'em if you can". 

One of the changes being considered for the next edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Version 5 is the introduction of a mixed anxiety / depression disorder -- [LINK].  The recommended diagnostic criteria for this disorder include: "The patient is not suffering from any other mental disorders recognised by DSM-5"  This is farily standard diagnostic practice, but does little, really, except help serve one of the possible uses of DSM-5 -- produce relatively "pure" groups for research.  

However, during one of my previous stays in the local "Mental Health" acute unit, the psychiatric registrar suggested, and I started taking, "prn" (as needed) Quetiapine, "to help me sleep" -- it helped, although taking it "too late" at night left me feeling too sedated the next day.

Now, in the latest issue of the journal Depression and Anxiety, Thase et al -- [LINK] -- discuss the use of extended release Quetiapine in patients suffering from depression, some of whom also suffered high levels of anxiety symptoms, though they DID NOT use the recommended DSM5 criteria. As they put it: "Quetiapine XR monotherapy improved symptoms of depression in patients with higher and lower levels of anxiety."

One caution, the last time I was in hospital the psychiatric registrar at that time was not in favour of prescribing Quetiapine -- "I generally don't prescribe "anti-psychotics" (my quotes) to people not suffering psychosis"  -- well,, sorry to say, thare are NOT such things as "anti-psychotics" -- biological psychiatrists have long been in search of this Holy Grail, but it's simplistic to describe the drugs given to patients with psychosis as "anti-psychotics" -- mostly, they are major tranquillizers, some with effects on both physical and cognitive symptoms.  So, my recommendation, if you wish to try this medication out -- bring this information to the attention of your treating doctor, and simply explain that, for you, symptoms of BOTH anxiety and depression are being experienced and are problematic.

I have requested the Thase et al article from the author and will make it available for you to provide your doctor as soon as I have it -- contact me at if you'd like to have a copy for yourself.

All the above "technical" considerations need to take place, in the making of a decision between your medical care provider and yourself of all the other "non-specific" factors relevant to treatment including (but not limited to): the need for a collaborative partnership the two of you, including that a clear and full discussion is held about options available, and the possible need to "stage" different treatments for different times -- perhaps medication immediately, then medication PLUS counselling, then moving on to counselling alone at some future time; the need for "titration" of the dosage taken -- carefully monitoring effects of dosage, starting on a small dose, altering dose depending on improvement in symptoms versus cost in side effects; incorporating drug treatment and counselling in a mix of other "interventions" or lifestyle changes, including peer support from those with similar problems -- for general tips see here -- [LINK] and try the other resources here -- [LINK]- good luck, good health, let me know how you get on!

July 7, 2012 -- Developmental Trauma Disorder - Update
I've been struggling for a while trying to get uptodate information on what's happening with the field trials for the proposed new diagnostic classification for the problems suffered by children who've experienced interpersonal trauma -- Developmental Trauma Disorder -- first discussed in great, and moving, detail by Bessel van der Kolk in 2005 in the journal Psychiatric Annals. This article and the most recent "Understanding Interpersonal Trauma in Children: Why We Need a Developmentally Appropriate Trauma Diagnosis", by D'Andrea, W., Ford, J., Stolbach, B., Spinazzola, J., van der Kolk, B., (American Journal of Orthopsychiatry,  2012, Vol. 82, No.2, 187-200),  are available for download here -- [LINK].

Well, yesterday I got the following email from Regina  Musicaro, Clinical Research Coordinator, at The Trauma Center, Justice Resource Institute, Brookline, MA, USA:

"The field trial is still in progress and data collection will not likely end until late fall.  Then we have to analyze data across all seven sites nation-wide.  In my experience, projects of this caliber take very long to complete (much longer than we want!) and my guess is that the full results will be out in a year.  This is just a guess, of course, and the goal is to be ready much sooner.  Thank you for your interest in the field trial and I hope to get better answers ASAP."

This means, unfortunately, that the diagnosis probably will not be appearing in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Version, of the American Psychiatric Association.  Sadly, this might also mean that doctors will be reluctant to use the diagnosis when the field trial results are in, regardless of what the results are, with negative implications for chances of reducing the inappropriate and inadequate treatment children currently receive due to not having a "recognised" disorder, as discussed in the original submission (see above link).

July 12, 2012 -- Developmental Trauma - In DSM5?
Great news, on at least a couple of fronts today.

"Last night"  I received the following from Wendy D'Andrea, author of this important study "A naturalistic study of the relation of psychotherapy process to changes in symptoms, information processing, and physiological activity in complex trauma." -- [LINK], as well as the latest article on the diagnosis "Developmental Trauma Disorder" -- "Understanding interpersonal trauma in children: why we need a evelopmentally appropriate trauma diagnosis" -- [LINK]:

"The good-ish news with the DSM-V situation is that, as I understand it, they plan to release continuous updates, like software. So they are encouraging us that while it won't likely be there now, it may be in version 5.1 or something. The other good news is that the revised PTSD diagnosis includes a lot of the self- and relational-dysregulation symptoms we'd like to see in DTD. The best news of all is (if you ask me) that the DSM-V process has been so problematic across the board that it seems like it will eventually implode.

I'm happy to share that, with my colleague Greg Siegle, I've just gotten a really big grant from the NIH to study trauma's effects on the body across diagnoses through a new grant mechanism called RDoC. The grant mechanism makes a point of being "agnostic to the DSM." This type of grant, which is not tied to a given diagnosis but rather to trauma as a risk factor, is an unprecedented step in the right direction for the NIH, as it is looking more to commonalities in mechanism and life history rather than concrete, limited diagnostic constructs."

On another, LOCAL, front we have news that Kate Scott has had an important article published -- [LINK] -- in the British Journal of Psychiatry: "Childhood maltreatment and DSM-IV adult mental disorders: comparison of prospective and retrospective findings".  Professor Scott is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychplogical Medicine / Psychiatry at the University of Otago.  This is an important and valuable contribution, this time by local researchers, to the field.  As the article's abstract begins, to define the problem:

"Prior research reports stronger associations between childhood maltreatment and adult psychopathology when maltreatment is assessed retrospectively compared with prospectively, casting doubt on the mental health risk conferred by maltreatment and on the validity of retrospective reports."

The abstract concludes:

"Prospectively and retrospectively assessed maltreatment elevated the risk of psychopathology to a similar degree. Prospectively ascertained maltreatment predicted a more unfavourable depression course."

In fact, as Scott notes in the article, for various methodological reasons, the findings were "conservative" the strength of the association was less strong than might exist "in reality"  -- and the childhood abuse - adult disorder association not limited to mental disorders such as depression, alone -- other studies have found such forms of childhood adversity as neglect, and physical abuse, are contributors such alcohol use disorders as heavy, episodic drinking -- Shin, Miller, & Teicher (2012) [LINK] -- and (personal communication) Scott advises that a similar effect is discernible in the local data, consistent with the other studies findings.

For far too long, the assumption has been made that these associations are made only by "personality disorder" self--interested unstable individuals. The research data in fact argue that this is in fact contrary to the truth -- victims of abuse who suffer disorders, and victims generally, may UNDER play the significance of such abuse factors in accounting for their problems -- this would be consistent with the effects of shame and "flawed self" perspective of abuse victims.

It is too early, for us oldies, who have been forced to suffer the consequences of psychiatric maltreatment in the past, to get excited by these developments, but hopefully it will mean that, for those "newly diagnosed" children and young adults,  the long misunderstood nature of trauma-related disorders will become better understood as such, trauma-related disorders, and not as "personality disorders", and that "adequate and appropriate" treatment will be forthcoming, and that the stigma such oldies as I have suffered, and that adult victims of sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse, have suffered, will also come to an end.

Further information on the "RDoC" -- Research Domain Criteria -- research scheme can be found here: -- [LINK]

As usual, contact me if you'd like copies of the articles cited.

July 15, 2012 -- Treatability of Chronic Depression
In an unsurprising conjunction, my most recent (automated) advisory of new research from PubMed -- [LINK] -- reports of new research showing:


July 19, 2012 -- Substance Abuse and Trauma -- Sad Truths

Previously in my posts I highlighted the research report of Professor Kate Scott of the University of Otago, comparing prospective and retrospective sources of data, linking experience of trauma during childhood and later development of mental health and substance abuse, especially depression and drug abuse. I'm still in touch with developments in substance use disorder research in my home country Australia and today there was a report of a recent study -- [LINK] -- led by Glenys Dore and Katherine Mills of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. This study found that upwards of 80 per cent of patients admitted to psychiatric hospitals with diagnoses of depression and suicidal ideation, aggravated by active substance use disorder, have histories of childhood trauma.  Dr Mills, in a radio interview with Wendy Harmer on Australia Radio National -- accessible here -- [LINK] -- actually reports that the 80 per cent figure is actually a "conservative estimate" with the actual PREVALENCE of childhood trauma experienced by such patients likely to be even higher. Of crucial significance, Dr Mills points out, is that most of these patients had never previously been assessed, let alone received treatment, for such trauma.

I have previously worked in the AOD sector in New Zealand, and still "take part" in the Alcohol and Drug Discussion List Aandd Digest -- [LINK].  Approximately a year ago I put a request over the list asking for opinions as to whether (a) people in A&D Services (most commonly called Alcohol & OTHER Drugs Services) customarily asked about clients' histories of trauma and (b) if such services had a standard practice of asking about, and dealing with such history. I received only four replies -- only one said they "commonly" asked about such history (though this wasn't a practice all within that agency had) and NO ONE had a standard practice or policy about asking about and dealing with history of trauma -- clearly this is an area of practice that SHOULD BE but IS NOT.

In my last email I wrote that we ARE moving towards knowing what SHOULD BE basic essential standards of practice for trauma-related disorders in mental health settings. Clearly there are also practices that SHOULD BE standard in substance use counselling services but are NOT, NOT in Australia, and certainly NOT in New Zealand -- if you care about this complain, to your Health Service, to the Health and Disability Commissioner, and to your Member of Parliament.

July 21, 20112 -- Forget the past -- at our peril

Today, I'd like to "re-publish" a post I submitted to the American blog "the Higher Education Chronicle" in response to encouragement from a colleague who responded to my post to the PsyLaw - Psychology and Law discussion list in response to his re-posting of somethi g comparing NZ and US responses to breaches in scientific ethics -- the original post to The Chronicle, by Dr Carl Elliott is available here -- [LINK]

"A colleague posted the contents of the post on a professional list serve of which I am a member. The list is largely American in membership, though I live in Dunedin, as apparently does Dr Elliott. However, the end result of our experiences has left very different impressions on us. With apologies I shall submit, largely, the contents of my post to the listserv (PsyLaw -- for those psychologists interested in both Psychology and the Law):

As someone who's spent most of the last 10 years working and living in New Zealand, as a psychologist working in adult clinical and forensic services, I can't help but wonder what the motivation was in making this comparison.

It seems to be comparing "how bad" things are in the United States with "how good" things are in "little ol' Downunder New Zealand". To me, who's been here for so long, after starting work as a psychologist in Australia, but also who's worked in England, and visited clinical and forensic services in the United States, Canada, and Scotland, it's clear it's been written by someone who's never worked, clinically, in this country, at least not in "sensitive areas" and who doesn't have knowledge of clinical psychological research in this country.

The story does note, and this shouldn't be forgotten, that the researchers were EVENTUALLY successful, after struggling for years, nearly decades, in getting responsible authorities to take steps to do something about the situation. I submit that a similar situation could, again, all too easily take place here today, that the "responsible authorities" still often act anything BUT responsibly. "Fortunately", the researchers he mentions could point to actual bodies, and post mortems, as solid evidence that "inadequate and inappropriate" treatment had been provided to those clearly in need of better, more "responsible" services.

A specialist interest of mine is the assessment and treatment of adults with childhood trauma-related psychological problems, especially those receiving adult Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs counselling (MH & AOD) services. But isn't that all, or at least most, of those with "chronic problems" you might ask? (well, you would if you know your stuff). A new study -- by Dore, Mills, et al (published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review -- from Australia (not New Zealand, not surprisingly, but more on that later), is relevant to this. The study, by Glenys Dore, Katherine Mills and colleagues at the National Drug an Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales (Australia) has found that upwards of 80 per cent of those hospitalised when suffering from depression, suicidal ideation, and with histories of substance abuse, have a history of childhood trauma, most experiencing multiple traumas, and nearly half suffering PTSD symptoms. Most importantly, prior to being asked by the researchers, very few had been asked about their experience of trauma, and even fewer had ever received any treatment for trauma (not discussed in the abstract, but information given by Mills in a radio interview on Australia's Radio National).

In New Zealand, I take part in the Alcohol and Drug discussion list (AandD Digest) and put questions to those on the list about a year ago -- "How many of you regularly ask about history of trauma?", "How many of you work in agencies with a standard practice of inquiring about trauma?" -- I got four responses, from people who "often" asked about trauma, as individual practitioners, but none who said they worked in an agency that made it a standard practice.

In New Zealand, as I guess in most countries in Western society, the prevailing practice is to discharge people from hospital care as soon as possible, with one exception, "Ashburn Clinic", here in Dunedin. I have had prior dealings with Ashburn clients and at the time of first inquiry, was "surprised" at how many had histories of childhood trauma (of one sort or another, perhaps a few with unresolved childhood grief after the loss of a caregiver -- but see Simon (2012, Depression and Anxiety "Is Complicated Grief a Post-loss Stress Disorder?"). Now, of course, after much more study and research, the Ashburn clientele (typically acute service "revolving door" clients, some with histories of sexual abuse) the high PREVALENCE of trauma in this group of patients is only to be expected. Unfortunately, that's not how Ashburn staff conduct their practice -- although duration of stay is much longer than at the acute services, the service is run as a "therapeutic community", "research-based" -- although the research base is thirty years old, and bears no relation to recent findings on treatment of psychological trauma, complex trauma, or male reactions to trauma. Ashburn says it gives equal time to addressing both male and female issues, but in practice it doesn't allow input from those with expertise in male survivor issues -- the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust (MSSAT) is explicitly prohibited from having contact with male clients while they are in Ashburn -- I am particularly offended, as apart from having a specialist interest and expertise in the area, I am a Trust board member of MSSAT. This helps Ashburn -- it saves it from public scrutiny, it allows Ashburn to minimise costs -- it employs Psychiatrists, Psychotherapists-in-training (in New Zealand, it's possible to become a Psychotherapist after only two years supervised "training"), a part-time occupational therapist, and nurses -- nurses who do not need to be psychiatrically trained or experienced, and who do not need training in counselling, but with NO Psychologists on staff, and NO Clinical Social Workers.

A complaint by a former patient of Ashburn to the NZ Health and Disability Commission (HDC) was dismissed quickly after a perfunctory "investigation" (or not - the complaint was never made "formal" by the HDC) by the Psychiatrist President-elect of the RANZCP (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry) with the assurance that the Ashburn Psychiatrist-administrator "vouched for" his staff's expertise, and the assurance that the service was "research-based" (like Harvey saying, in the 16th Century, that blood transfusions are "research-based" without any view to modern research on blood typing, say).

There are "professed" standards Psychologists in NZ should comply with, like maintaining patient confidentiality, and providing services under supervision if one is not experienced in providing certain therapies (like therapy to victims of childhood trauma) but in practice, in a further complaint, this time to the NZ Psychologists Board, about these very issues, the psychologist's word was accepted over the "misguided patient's" but, of course, in such cases there are no dead bodies, and no postmortems to point to.

The research conducted by Dore, Mills et al would simply NEVER be supported, academically or institutionally, in New Zealand. Have a look at the academic staff at one of NZ's "premier" Universities - Otago -- there are fewer than a handful of Psychology academics conducting research into the clinical problems of adults (the Psychiatry Department is impossible for Psychology graduates to enter as PhD students -- I've tried), and there is next to NO academic research being conducted into clinical remediation of adults' problems as a result of childhood trauma, ANYWHERE in New Zealand, despite the very high prevalence of such problems in MH and AOD areas. Male Survivors of sexual child abuse are one of the most stigmatised "clinical groups" in our NZ Society, dreadfully socially disconnected (Martin Dorahy, an "academic and not clinical" (HIS description) researcher at the University of Cantebury has done some good research on this). Yet, at places like Ashburn, relevant professional outsiders are treated as "persona non grata".

I am not saying that I know it all, and have always known it all. I am well into double figures in terms of knowing people who have committed suicide, people I should have asked about their possible history of abuse, people I maybe should have done a better job of "being there" for. But it's one thing to admit one's past ignorance and to try to do better, despite that past ignorance. It's another thing to say "they're the best there is" when describing the staff at Ashburn, as the local Head of Psychiatry at Otago does, to deny one's ignorance and blunder on none the less.

Bessel van der Kolk wrote of the need for a new diagnosis, to try to secure more "adequate and appropriate" treatment for those children and adolescents who had experienced trauma. We ARE moving towards having better standards for "adequate and appropriate" MH and AOD services for adult victims of childhood trauma, as I am trying to do for male victims of sexual child abuse, but I doubt that better standards will prevail, generally, in NZ services, at least in MY lifetime, in the Public Service, though some "servants of the public" will try to do so. The bodies of suicides just don't seem visible to those who don't want to see. The bodies of people who have committed suicide after failing to receive "adequate and appropriate treatment" at places like New Zealand's Ashburn Clinic.

As a colleague succinctly put it, after reading my post to the PsyLaw listserv: "It is very hard for those whose professional motivation contains a large dose of humanity to work in modern societies where human suffering is objectified, impersonalized, and ultimately commodified and monetized for personal and political gain." New Zealand is a small country, with a severely limited economic base, but should this allow the country to deny advances in clinical research, and sweep real problems in clinical services under the rug, pretending to be "the best there is" when the situation is in fact vastly different.

In New Zealand, we are a long, long, long way from where we could be, where we should be, where we NEED to be."

Dore,G, Mills, K, Murray, RM, Teesson, M & Farrugia, P, 2012, 'Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidality invinpatients with substance use disorders', Drug and Alcohol Review, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 294 - 302

The message, to me, is clear: if we let our "responsible public bodies" repeat the errors of the past, as they have done by their NON-response to the issues mentioned, grievous harm will befall many more innocents.

July 30, 2012 -- Emotional Abuse & Social Anxiety -- Tortuous Recovery

Childhood maltreatment has been associated with the development of a variety of adult disorders, both physical and mental, with the severity of symptoms experienced, reduced quality of life, and impaired functioning across diverse domains.  A recent study by Bruce et al (2012 -- [LINK]) has extended these findings to Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).  This study further examined the impact of different types of abuse, and the impact of abuse on the outcome of drug treatment for the disorder. 

All types of maltreatment except for sexual abuse and physical abuse were related to greater symptom severity.

Emotional abuse and neglect were related to greater disability; and emotional abuse, emotional neglect, and physical abuse were related to decreased quality of life. Emotional abuse significantly predicted attrition -- dropping out of treatment. A time by emotional abuse statistical interaction suggests that for those who stayed the course, the impact of emotional abuse on severity of social anxiety weakened significantly over time.  If you have been emotionally maltreatment during your childhood you are more likely to drop out of treatment, but if you can "survive" the challenges of treatment you are likely to benefit from treatment "almost" as much as those who suffered other types of abuse.

Emotional maltreatment was most strongly linked to dysfunction in SAD, despite a tendency in the anxiety literature to focus on the effects of sexual and physical abuse. Additionally, individuals reporting emotional abuse were more likely to dropout from pharmacotherapy, but those who stayed the course displayed similar outcomes to those without such a history.

To me, this creates an obligation on therapists to not only know the effect of various types of abuse on treatment process, but an obligation to monitor, through direct enquiry of the patient, how the patient is feeling about therapy, about how they feel they are being treated in therapy, and to devise a more effective working relationship with the patient -- see also the recommendations of Steidtmann et al (2012 -- [LINK] and Fluckiger -- [LINK].

In my next post, I shall explore the implications of these, and possibly related, findings for possible strategies for conducting more effective therapy with victims of childhood abuse and trauma.

Next post: The three R's of Trauma Therapy -- Relationship, Responsibility, Resilience -- The Core Elements of Treatment

A final observation can also be made -- we are moving more and more towards having evidence-based standards of care for adults suffering childhood trauma-related depressive, anxiety, substance-use, other psychiatric, and physical disorders. But, given my experience of practice and research issues in this area in New Zealand, we are VERY far behind where we need to be, where we, in my opinion, should be. Given the absence of a current research evidence base to local practice, people have died, through suicide, and through trauma-related physical disorders, long before they should have, after having suffered cruelly, emotionally and physically, from trauma-induced symptoms.