Ash Wednesday 30 - Rob Gordon
Ash Wednesday 30 - Rob GordonContributors
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Ash Wednesday 30 Contributors State of Victoria 2013
Rob Gordon, a clinical psychologist and consultant to the Victorian State Government on disaster recovery, was part of a Royal Children's Hospital team working in the Macedon area at the time of the Ash Wednesday bushfires.
He recounts his experience of working with the local community to help them recover in the aftermath of the bushfire.
DR ROB GORDON:
My name is Rob Gordon. I’m a clinical psychologist. I’m currently a consultant to the Department of Human Services for disaster recovery and I have been involved since Ash Wednesday, when I was part of a Children’s Hospital team working in the Macedon area.
I remember clearly, I’d been working at the Children’s Hospital in the Department of Psychiatry for about six years and then, of course, when Ash Wednesday occurred, I was asked to be part of the team, and that took me out of the hospital regularly and into a completely different area of work, and I had to learn all my skills again.
See, at that time, there was a notion that people either had a diagnosable mental health condition or they were within normal limits. There was beginning to emerge the concept of stress, but the links hadn’t been made very strongly to stress as a component of post-traumatic stress or stress as resulting in mental health problems. This was emerging at the time. We began to recognise that we needed to define a different way of helping people that was more informal and flexible and didn’t fit the normal structure of a clinical consultation.
I remember that one of the then-psychiatric hospitals sent up a team and they had a caravan with a big label on it: ‘Stress counselling’, and parked it in the main street. As it happens, opposite from one of the surviving buildings that was the community information centre and, of course, when people looked at this stress counselling sign, they thought, ‘I’m not going in there.’
There were actually people that went in there. They were generally people who’d already had experiences of using mental health services, and they would say, ‘Thank goodness,’ and they’d go straight in there, but all these other people who were suffering from confusion and stress and anxiety and not knowing what was going on for themselves, they all went across to the community information centre.
So, we made sure that we made good relationships with them, and we found that we actually spent quite a lot of time providing advice and consultation to these local community members who were actually managing, and I remember the bar maid at the hotel we got to know, and she had a whole case-load of the sort of people that would come to the bar at 11 o’clock in the morning and stay until 10pm. These were vulnerable people, and she was case-managing them all.
So, you know, we realised the absolute necessity of finding out and integrating with these community volunteers that emerge in every community after disasters, and this is a very central element of the Victorian recovery strategy now.
What’s important is to provide people with an opportunity to talk about what actually happened to them and what the impact of that was, rather than going into their emotional experience and their background history and all the other things that we would deal with in a clinical context, and so, in those next few years, between ’83 and ’85, all these ideas were beginning to emerge from the work. Not just in our hospital team, but in a number of other teams working.
So, really, Ash Wednesday was an enormous, sort of, leap into new areas of activity.