Australian PTSD Guidelines: Getting the Message Out
May 1, 2008
Editor’s Note: Over the last year, we have sought out contributions on professional development themes for StressPoints. In this issue, we learn more about how our colleagues at the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health disseminated their new treatment guidelines. Thanks to ISTSS Board Member, Dr. Mark Creamer, and his colleague Jacinta Cubis, for coordinating this article.
If there are professional development topics you’d like to see covered in StressPoints or you have an article on some aspect of professional development that you’d like to submit, please contact Anne DePrince.
Background to the Australian Guidelines
The Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Adults with Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder are an exciting development for the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (ACPMH) at the University of Melbourne, for the field of posttraumatic mental health, and for the promotion of evidence-based treatment in mental health.
Approved by the Australian National Medical Health and Research Council (NHMRC), the Guidelines help health practitioners to determine when is the right time for professional intervention and what is the best approach for helping people affected by trauma.
ACPMH Director, Professor Mark Creamer, said the Guidelines also help people affected by acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) make informed choices about their care.
Professor Creamer is pleased with the enthusiastic support the Guidelines have received from practitioners and researchers, including participants at last year’s ISTSS annual general meeting in Baltimore.
“I believe that they are the most user-friendly guidelines I have ever read.”
Professor Colin Masters, Chair of the NHMRC’s
National Health Committe,
Laureate Professor, University of Melbourne
“It is very gratifying to hear that people find them relatively easy to use and understand,” Professor Creamer said. “I think this is largely due to the fact that most of the experts involved in developing the Guidelines regularly work with people affected by trauma in their own practices,” Professor Creamer explained, “This helped us to develop practical recommendations. We’ve also tried to make a very clear link between the recommendations and the evidence which supports them.”
“As all practitioners would be aware, guidelines are only effective if they actually improve practice. Letting people know they are available is the first step,” said ACPMH Associate Professor David Forbes, Chair of the Guidelines Working Party.
The first task was to produce different versions of the Guidelines to suit a range of needs, including:
- The full guidelines
- A brief practitioner guide for easy use
- Information booklet for people diagnosed with ASD or PTSD, their families and careers
“All the resources were tested with health practitioners and people directly affected by traumatic experiences. Their feedback has helped to make the materials relevant and accessible,” Forbes explained.
A promotional brochure listing these resources was produced for distribution to health practitioners. All the resources are available for free download from the ACPMH or NHMRC Web sites (details below).
With the accompanying resources ready, a national launch was organised jointly with NHMRC to signal the beginning of the Guidelines roll out. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs launched the Guidelines at Parliament House in Canberra in the presence of senior government representatives, influential health professionals, trauma researchers and community groups.
Armed with the dissemination tools, ACPMH built relationships with influential advocates and organisations to reach health professionals, policy makers and people affected by trauma. An important outcome of this was the endorsement of the Guidelines by the peak professional bodies for psychiatrists (the Royal Australian and Zealand College of Psychiatrists: RANZCP) and psychologists (the Australian Psychological Society: APS). ACPMH published articles in peer reviewed Australian medical and psychology journals, electronic and print newsletters, and websites, and presented many symposia at professional conferences across the country. The first article about the Guidelines in an e-newsletter for psychologists resulted in at least 1,500 visitors to ACPMH’s website and results were similarly effective with other avenues. In an innovative step, visitors can email the Guidelines brochure to a colleague from ACPMH’s Web site.
ACPMH implemented a joint media strategy with NHMRC, which included a media alert, media release and pitches to key media outlets. Results included interviews on the number one national breakfast radio program, as well as articles in Australia’s only national newspaper and a number of medical newspapers. Other media outlets subsequently picked up the story, generating further media opportunities well after the launch.
“And months after the launch, we just keep talking about the Guidelines in any media interview we do,” Forbes explained.
“We make sure that we talk about the key recommendations in the Guidelines and push the website address whenever we are interviewed about the psychological impact of an accident, or asked to comment about an anniversary, such as the Bali bombing.”
The development and dissemination of the guidelines has been supported by several Australian Government departments.
“The combination of NHMRC approval and peak bodies’ endorsement helped us to win funding support from the government to distribute free copies to policy makers in the areas of disaster and trauma, to health practitioners, and to the broader community. We also held free information sessions separately for practitioners and consumers across the country. Around two thousand people came to these sessions,” Professor Creamer said. ACPMH has also offered tailored briefings about the guidelines to government and private sector organisations with an interest in the mental health effects of trauma.
“We also sent copies to every member of Parliament,” Forbes added.
Articles about the Guidelines in ACPMH’s newsletter, TraumaNews continue to reach an ever-growing number of readers who include health practitioners, service providers and government agencies.
On the education front, ACPMH developed a training package that includes skills development workshops, a DVD training package in conducting imaginal exposure, and web-based practice support tools for health practitioners. ACPMH also received a fellowship from the National Institute for Clinical Studies (NICS) to promote uptake of the Guidelines recommendations and change practitioners’ behaviour at clinical services in the areas of sexual assault and veterans mental health.
Interim results from ACPMH’s dissemination efforts include:
- More than 10,000 Guidelines and resources distributed
- A tripling of our website visitors
- Mainstream media coverage reaching more than 3 million largely metropolitan readers
Medical media coverage reaching approximately 40,000 health professionals, including four avenues targeted at general practitioners
“Getting the message out and changing practitioner behaviour is at least as time-consuming and challenging, and ultimately as satisfying, as developing the Guidelines,” Professor Creamer said.
The Guidelines are available for free download at www.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au.