Dealing with Disaster – the bushfire response

12 Points will be organising information evenings for Ferntree Gully locals and online support for those in the affected regions in the coming weeks. However, for now, many of us can only watch in horror as this disaster unfolds around the country.

Here is an incredibly thorough summary of some adaptive and helpful responses that we can focus on in the midst of these types of disasters to best to take care of ourselves and our children*.

Danielle Graber


Emotional First Aid

Emotional First Aid gives you information on how to help yourself, your family and friends in response to witnessing, hearing or living through the traumatic events.

When traumatic events happen, they challenge our sense of safety and predictability and this may trigger strong physical and emotional reactions. These reactions are normal.

Dos and Don’ts

  • DO try to get the information about your loved ones ASAP, but don’t spend every minute re-dialing. The lines are busy, and you need to take breaks to focus on other activities from time to time.
  • DO watch the news for a limited time to get the information you need, but then turn off the TV or the radio for a while.
  • DON’T get hooked on the repetitive traumatic images on TV and social media. These images have the uncanny ability to suck us in and keep us glued to the screen, even if it makes us feel worse after. Resist the pull to watch.
  • DON’T stay isolated. Organize and meet in community groups, in neighbourhoods, YMCA’s and religious centres. Get together with family and friends and support each other.

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  • DO seek professional help if your reaction feels too strong to handle on your own or with your friends. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weak, it means you’re human.
  • DO keep busy and have as structured a schedule as possible to help you stay grounded. It is crucial to focus on your resources, anything that helps you feel calmer, stronger and more grounded.
  • DO things that keep your mind occupied, such as watching a movie, knitting, cooking, playing with children or pets, gardening or being in nature.
  • DO some writing – note down your sensations, feelings and thoughts. It has been shown that writing assists in discharging anxiety and helps us feel more in control.
  • DO get sufficient rest. Our tendency is to run on adrenaline and exhaust our bodies.
  • DON’T let yourself or others re-tell your stories in a repetitive way which can ultimately deepens the trauma; instead listen to each other’s accounts of the event, but with interruptions of the story from beginning to end. Stopping the chronological telling of the story will help you to process feelings without overwhelming yourself and help you not get stuck in obsessive thinking.
  • DO allow yourself to feel the feelings you are feeling even if they are not pretty. Anger, rage and grief are very natural responses to traumatic events. Feel your feelings and allow your emotions to be expressed in a safe framework, but
  • DON’T act out with your anger, try and turn your reactions into a productive outlet (e.g., physical exercise).
  • DO stay active and find a way to get involved that plays to your strengths, e.g., volunteering at collection centres, giving blood or transporting goods into affected areas (when safe to do so).
  • DON’T take it personally if affected individuals get angry and don’t judge their responses. Just be there for them in whatever way they identify as most helpful.


Psychological Response

People can have many different reactions to the tragedy. We each follow our own path through trauma and grief depending who we are, why we’re traumatised and what resources we have to help us be resilient. Only 5-10% of people develop chronic problems (like Acute Stress Disorder, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Some will be in shock, stunned and dissociated for a while. They may feel disoriented in time, and place, and sometimes in person. They may feel numb and cut off from the terror and pain.

People may feel fear and deep sorrow, uncertainty and helplessness. People may feel confused, not able to think well, concentrate, remember things or problem-solve. They may feel depressed, exhausted, unable to rest and wanting to withdraw. All these feelings are normal in the immediate period after a trauma.

People may feel agitated, anxious, hyper-alert and hyper-vigilant (‘on guard’), easily irritated and unable to control their emotions. They need to engage in activities and creative expression that calms them.

Being with family members, friends or other caring people can help to calm you. Try to stay with other people, even if you don’t want to talk about you experiences. Your brain will generally feel safer if there are other people nearby.

feel the feelingPeople may feel suspicious and paranoid. They may be feel intense anger and want to engage in antisocial acts. They can become very critical and blame everyone. It is important to talk to friends and get a “reality check” on our perspective and to not engage in any act that would go against our values in our “pre-trauma” state.

Some people’s previous unresolved traumas may get reactivated. Their sense of safety and trust may get shaken. They need to remind themselves or be reminded of their names, their actual age and today’s date and place. This helps reground them in the here and now.

Children may become ‘clingy’ and have nightmares. They may have stomach-aches and headaches. Alternatively, they may act out aggressively. This is normal. It might last a few days or more but it will pass. They need to be reassured and made to feel protected. Here’s a guide for parents from Phoenix Australia, a book for children, and another for teens.

Physiological response

It’s natural to have a physical reaction to traumatic stress and it helps to recognize these symptoms as signs of ‘activation’ and not to be scared by them:

These reactions will dissipate or go away if we use the energy and don’t fight them. People might experience some difficulty sleeping, or they might have the urge to overeat or engage in behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs. Try to avoid hurting your body and brain any more than they’ve already been hurt.

Reaching for something to numb yourself can help you feel temporarily better, but the next day your brain and body have to cope with the effects of toxins as well as trauma. Seek professional help if you’re having trouble coping.

The best ‘antidote’ is to try to just be aware of these impulses, accept that it is how you’re feeling right now and know that it will pass.

What to do

It is very important to stay ‘grounded’. If you are feeling disoriented, confused, upset and in disbelief, you can do the following exercise:

  • Sit on a chair, feel your feet on the ground, press on your thighs, feel your behind on the seat, and your back supported by the chair; look around you and pick six objects that are blue or green.Or do the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise below.

    It takes up brain space to do these exercises, helps your body feel like it’s got a job to do and should help you find a moment of calm to redirect yourself. This should allow you to feel more in the present and in your body. Notice how your breath gets deeper and calmer.

  • Heavy work, sports, aerobics and weight training help avoid depression and are a channel for aggression.
  • If you believe in prayer or in some sort of greater power, pray for rest for the souls of the dead, for the healing of the wounded, for strength and consolation for the grieving. Pray for peace, understanding and wisdom and for the forces of goodness to prevail.
  • Most of all, be kind to yourself and those around you.


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*Adapted from Emotional First Aid – Brief Guide.

Gina Ross – Trauma specialist, founder of the International Trauma Institute and author of the book in progress “The Role of Media in Healing Trauma” and Peter Levine– Author of “Waking The Tiger- Healing Trauma” and creator of Somatic Experiencing, an innovative method for healing trauma”


2 hours in the life of admin

Danielle here! As most of you know, I’m the founder and director of 12 Points Psychology and as such, I was the one who set up a lot of our admin processes. I chose the patient management system that we use, and with Trish’s help (our Practice Manager) developed all the policies and procedures our admin staff follow as they support our clinicians to best serve our clients.

However, up until last weekend, it had been 3 years since I had to work the front desk and it certainly gave me a lot of insight into all that admin do for us as clinicians and for our clients. So, I wanted to use this as a chance to thank our admin team for all that they do and let some of our clients in on the behind the scenes stuff that our admin staff are often juggling out there at the front desk. So here’s my Saturday shift…


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I covered admin for 2 hours a couple of Saturdays ago, while Mat and Elizabeth were running the Coping with Christmas group and wow has it changed since the last time I had to sit at the front desk!



Even though it was a Saturday.

Even though there were only TWO clinicians on.

Even though it was only 2 hours.

Damn it was hard!

I got there half an hour early (as we ask admin to do for handover time) and Mat filled me in on the situation with the client who was in with Janine. Depending on how their session went, there were two very different procedures I would have to follow when they finished up and I needed to prep for both so I wouldn’t keep the client or the clinician waiting.

Then the group members started coming in to pay, it’s only $10 each, but there was a new person who needed to fill out her paperwork as well. They all needed teas and coffees too. While that was happening, someone called to take a cancellation spot Mat had offered them earlier in the morning, so I had to book them in and answer some questions.

Are you keeping track?

In the space of maybe 2 minutes, I was:

  • simultaneously taking and making 3 tea and coffee orders,
  • putting 3 lots of payments through,
  • taking notes for the client that would be coming out at 3,
  • speaking to a client and booking them in for Monday and
  • trying to smile and stay pleasant about the whole thing! 🙂

The group members went though and I was fixing up the ‘back end’ in our patient management system, e.g., marking those who were in attendance as ‘paid’ and processing rebates when the phone rang again. This time it was one of Clinton’s clients who wanted to cancel all his upcoming appointments because he’d just started a new job and could no longer make those times. I tried to convince him not to cancel them all (as Clinton is hard to get in to), but ended up having to go in and cancel 4 upcoming appointments and then send an email to Clinton letting him know that’s what I’d done and that the client wanted to put on the list to be contacted in the New Year when things had settled.

So then of course I also had to go onto the to-do board for next year and make a note of that as well – including the explanation about when the client is most easily contactable. I decided to leave filling those cancelled spots for Trish on Monday! (Sorry Trish).

And it wasn’t even 3pm yet!

Over the rest of my 2-hour shift, I just couldn’t believe how many competing tasks admin now had to juggle, and how many different points there are along the way where the wheels can fall off and take up even more time, for example:

  • one rebate came up as failed because the Medicare card was invalid – so the Monday people had to phone Medicare – 15 minutes on hold to find out that the client’s Medicare card had updated and the client hadn’t been told yet (Medicare often updates your Medicare number BEFORE they send you your new card).
  • One rebate came up as failed as the client was out of Mental Health Care Plan sessions, so that was 15-20 minutes explaining the Mental Health Care Plan system to him (no mean feat as it doesn’t really make sense to anyone!), changing the fee type, printing out a new invoice, explaining how to get the private health insurance rebate, while leaving another “Monday to-do” for poor Trish who will then have to make another call to Medicare to check what had happened (the client had used 2 sessions with another psych earlier in the year that they didn’t realise counted towards their total).
  • A new client came out to pay and book forward, but I was in the middle of processing the other claim, so couldn’t check the (unusual) spelling on her name, this meant I had to write everything down and then enter it in afterwards once I had the file back in front of me and then text her the dates that she had booked forward after she’d left.

This was all happening while I was coming to a very important decision about my decorating aesthetic for the waiting room! No more toys that make clanks, clashes or banging sounds! I apologise to the entire admin team for submitting you to that for as long as I have!! It’s all soft furnishings and plush toys from here on out!

Needless to say, I was very, very grateful when 4.30 rolled around and Mat came out from their first group session (which happily went very well)!!

So, this is a thank you to admin and all that they do (because I swear, they don’t even realise how many different balls they manage to keep up in the air anymore, they just do it!) and a reminder for them, myself, the rest of us clinicians and our clients that when the occasional ball does get dropped, it represents a tiny percentage of the hundreds of processes that get done right, that get done with a smile and that make ours and our client’s lives so much easier.

I’m both incredibly proud of our amazing team and incredibly grateful that my days at the front desk are over!

So hats off to Mat, Kath, Laura, Lisandra and Trish who make us look good AND make it look so easy! 🙂









An Introduction to Animal-Assisted Therapy

intro to AATObviously animal-assisted therapy is pretty important to me AND to 12 Points and I’m thrilled to see how much traction it’s getting within the mental health field now.

The more people out there providing evidence-based animal-assisted therapy services, the more clients can benefit from this innovative (and entertaining) field of psychotherapy.

However I’m also a big believer in setting yourself up for success, especially when we’re talking about the interactions between therapists, their animals and their clients.

That’s why I’ve put together a 4-week training program, specifically tailored to mental health professionals who are thinking about incorporting animals into their therapy practice.

This 4-week course will be delivered via a closed FB group and features:
– up to date research articles on the science behind the effectiveness of AAT,
– case studies discussing AAT in Action AND
– ongoing support and mentoring.

For those who access the group before the 1st of November, they’ll also have the chance to have more personalised content delivered to them via 4 livestreamed lectures/demonstrations (the recordings will also be saved for everyone to access at anytime they join).

In the 4 livestreams we’ll cover:
– how to find your animal co-therapist, OR
– how to work out if your existing pet might be suitable as a therapy animal,
– how to access the best training for you and your animal,
– policies and procedures (including insurance and tax-related issues) when incorporating an animal into your workplace.

To sign up, just go to our ‘Resources for Sale’ page and click on the paypal link or email for more information.

Open and ongoing access is only $97 until the end of 2019.

I hope to see you online soon!

Danielle Graber
Clinical Psychologist & Animal-assisted therapist
Director – 12 Points Psychology

Veganism and Mental Health: The Cost of Caring

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Hi! I’m Amanda, a counsellor, primary/secondary teacher and an excited new member of the 12 Points team!

Whilst my work at 12 Points will predominantly focus on working with young people experiencing challenges with social, emotional, behavioural and learning issues, I have actually been asked to talk about something else that I am equally passionate about, the link between mental health and veganism.  I am a dedicated vegan; having made the transition from vegetarianism about 5 years ago. I really wish there had been a counsellor available to me at the time who could have supported and guided me, especially given how emotive, and often misunderstood, the term ‘vegan’ has become in recent years.

According to Google Trends, Australia was the most popular country for veganism in both 2017 and 2018 and was also the 3rd fastest growing market for vegan products in 2018. The largest growing demographic of vegans is those between 16 and 34 years old, with the most common age group transitioning being those between 19 and 21 years old.

With this steady growth within the vegan community, prominent Australian vegan psychologist Clare Mann conceived a terrific new concept in 2017 – ‘Vystopia’.  This term perfectly describes how many vegans feel and explains why so many may benefit from therapeutic support. Vystopia refers to ‘an existential crisis experienced by vegans, arising out of an awareness of the trance-like collusion with a dystopian world’. In other words, when someone ‘goes vegan’ they are suddenly confronted by the fact that, whilst they are living in line with their values, the rest of the world is not and now appears cruel and unkind in comparison. It can be a frustrating existence in which one may experience abuse, critcism and ostracization because they no longer support particular mainstream views. Vegans can find it extremely difficult to find someone who understands these feelings in a therapeutic setting.

Like Neo taking the red pill in the Matrix, we’ve seen how far the rabbit hole goes and it can be a daunting, isolating place, especially when you consider that as a community, those who choose the vegan lifestyle tend to be highly empathic and sensitive people.


It must be noted that some new vegans may, in fact, take the red pill and embrace this newfound opportunity to create change without detriment to their mental health. However, most will experience a significant shift in their psychological wellbeing and struggle with the adjustment to this new world and the burden it brings. For the latter, vystopia can generate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, PTSD as well as sleep and behavioural disturbances. Some people may also withdraw and disconnect from previously supportive systems who don’t share their personal views and/or develop strong emotions such as grief, anger, intense guilt, a sense of isolation, or a feeling of helplessness.

The good news is, there are strategies and resources available to help work through the grief and distress that exists with vystopia. Much can be done to help a vegan client make sense of their experiences via modalities such as Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), Solution Focused Therapy (SFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Mindfulness, communication skills and resilience strategies can also be invaluable to support particular vystopian presentations.

At 12 Points Psychology I am not here to promote and convert people to veganism. However, I am here to offer a safe space for those who are thinking about, or have taken, the red pill and are finding it hard living as a vegan in a non-vegan world.

Please feel free to email me any questions at and I look forward to working with you all!

Amanda Atchison
Adolescent Counsellor


Can I Bring My Dog to Sessions?


As an animal-assisted practice, a question we get all the time is ‘can I bring my dog to my sessions?’ While we’d love to accommodate everyone, and we love meeting new dogs (obviously!) we also have to be considerate of our other clients and the therapy dogs working at the practice.

If you’d like to start bringing your own dog to sessions, please give us a call and we can arrange a Meet & Greet with admin or clinicians, as well as some of our therapy dogs, to get a sense of how you and your dog deal with the people and situations at the practice. Please don’t bring your dog along for a session until you’ve done the Meet and Greet as, if your dog isn’t suitable, we don’t want you to miss your session!

In order for us to consider allowing your dog to attend sessions at our practice, your dog MUST be:

  • desexed,
  • vaccinated, with an up-to-date vaccination certificate provided upon request,
  • in good health, clean, and free from parasites (fleas, worms etc.),
  • toilet trained, and
  • on leash or halter at ALL times.

Most importantly, your dog must NEVER have shown aggression to people or other dogs.

Please note that these requirements are not negotiable.

Ideally, your dog will also have at least basic obedience and manners. Preferred training providers include Lead the Way therapy-animal and support-animal training, Alpha Canine Group dog training or Patient Paws dog training. If you and your dog have done training through any of these organisations, it will be much easier for us to approve your dog.

Thank you for your understanding and helping us to keep 12 Points a safe and welcoming space for humans and canines alike!

Mathew Keany
Facilities & IT Manager

12 Points about… Gratitude

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Gratitude. Now there’s a word that’s getting a serious workout of late in ‘buzzword bingo’. But to truly understand the meaning and the purpose of those cute Instagram posts with the fluffy puppy pictures and inspirational quotes (which we’re obviously big fans of here at 12 Points Psychology), here’s 12 Points you need to know about how and why you can use gratitude exercises to optimise mental health and wellness.

  1. Gratitude is all about making a meaningful expression of thanks and an active decision to focus on what we have (rather than on what we want or on what others have).
  2. It is not just focusing on what we have that is better than others, (e.g., there’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful that you have a roof over your head, but it’s not gratitude if you think that roof makes you better than those without a roof).
  3. Gratitude is an emotion you can develop, nurture and increase, just by shifting your attention to things you are grateful for. That could be as simple as mentally focusing on people and things you are grateful for, or, doing a more formal practice, like journalling, consciously looking for opportunities to say thank you or writing a letter to someone who is important to you.
  4. Gratitude practices like those described above, can improve your mood and increase the amount of happiness you experience in your day to day life.
  5. Practicing regular gratitude has been associated with actual physical changes, like reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the blood as well as improvements in relationships and even job satisfaction.
  6. Being on the lookout during your day for your grateful moments helps keep you focused in the present moment which reduces anxiety and improves attention.
  7. The more you look for things to be grateful for, the more things you will find, which actually reduces the attention and time spent focusing on negative events, emotions and thoughts.
  8. Gratitude practice has a cumulative effect – so you definitely need to do it more than once to feel the effects! But the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more benefits you gain.
  9. Gratitude promotes helping behaviours and compassion (it’s contagious!) so if you start practising, you will be helping to improve the health and well-being of all those around you as well!
  10. Grateful people have better self-control and are more easily able to delay gratification. Which is very useful if you’re trying to break a bad habit like nail-biting or smoking or introduce a new healthy habit, like drinking water regularly.
  11. Beware of passive-aggressive gratitude! I.e., “I’m grateful my annoying sibling/co-worker finally shut up”
  12. Gratitude can be done on your own, but can also be a tool to deepen emotional intimacy and strengthen relationships if you share your gratitude with others (e.g., a partner).

So do some stationary shopping for the perfect journal, download a gratitude tracking app or just take the time to text with a friend, but try and find just one thing per day that makes you feel grateful. I promise it will get easier as your mind gets used to looking for, noticing and acknowledging the positives you already have in your life.

As for me, honestly, today, I’m grateful for this platform I have to spread the word about a ridiculously simple practice that I have found incredibly powerful and positive, both personally and professionally, I hope it will be of benefit to you in some way too.


And if you want to see how I go keeping track of my gratitude this week, just head over to Facebook or Instagram to follow my 7 day gratitude tracking challenge! Fair warning – I’m often very grateful for my dogs – so there will be plenty of posts of sleeping puppy faces!

AAT in Action – II

Thanks to Facebook memories, I was reminded of a beautiful moment that Jersey shared with a client 3 years ago today and I thought it was just too special not to share with you all.

Some of you may know that Jersey has a bit of a proclivity for cuddling up with stuffed animals. She once stole a particularly fluffy teddy bear from a 2-year old’s outstretched hand!

Since her sister, Rory, has been known to eviscerate stuffed animals before you can say “Rory!”, Jersey can only have access to her stuffed animals at work. She likes to have Brown Dog (pictured) next to her during sessions sometimes and will pick it up in her mouth and take it to her bed when she needs some down time. She frets if a small child wants to play with Brown Dog. Jersey loves Brown Dog.


Today a young client and I were talking about different helpful and unhelpful ways that we use to deal with some difficult feelings. I told her about Jersey using Brown Dog to comfort herself when she’s feeling overwhelmed and the client thought that was a good idea and we started working out what she could use as her cuddly talisman.

Completely unbidden, Jersey left her bed and dropped Brown Dog at the client’s feet. She wouldn’t take Brown Dog back when we offered it to her and she left it there when she returned to her bed to snooze.

I teared up. The client was beside herself. Jersey just knew what was needed. The behaviour was so outside the norm for her. I really think she was responding to the client’s need, maybe she recognized her own distress in the client, maybe she was just showing her Brown Dog, but it made my day/week/month and I hope you enjoyed hearing about it!

Up until now…

I am so proud to be able to share this post with you all. 

Psychologists and mental health clinicians are actually really restricted with what we can do in terms of ‘promotion’ of our services. Most people don’t know this, but we can’t use any reviews or testimonials from clients and obviously we have to be incredibly careful sharing our ‘success’ stories because maintaining past and current client confidentiality is of the utmost importance to us. 

But this is not a testimonial or review, rather it is one young boy’s experience of his anxiety from the inside looking out. It was written by a former client who is now 10-years old and wrote this for a school assignment. He and his family have very kindly given us permission to share this with you (with some identifying details changed).

I hope this gives you some insight into how young people may be experiencing their anxiety and some hope that just like Mr Tony (Stark) here, change and improvement is 100% achievable.

Danielle Graber
Clinical Psychologist & Director


Up Until Now

Hi my name is Tony and I have anxiety. I have a twin brother named Peter, but he is nothing like me, he doesn’t have anxiety and isn’t scared to be by himself. Mum and Dad said that when I was little, I had anxiety. They say I was always really sad when I was left at childcare and was even worse when I went to kinder. I never liked being away from my parents.

When I was 4-years old, I was riding my bike home from my friend’s house with my mum. There was a man walking a big dog coming the other way. I stopped my bike and got out of his way. I don’t know why but the dog jumped at me and grabbed my hand in its mouth and ripped me into the ground. Mum said it tore my hand right open and there was blood everywhere. An ambulance had to come and get me and I had to have an operation to save my finger. I don’t really remember it that well, I just remember hearing mum tell the story lots of times. I think this made my anxiety even worse.


I started school the next year and I was fine. I made new friends and started playing sport. When I was in grade 1, I had to have another operation on my hand. I was really scared of the operation because I remembered what the last one was like. My anxiety was really bad again. When I was in grade 3, I had to have another operation and it all happened again.

When I was in grade 4 and on Easter holidays, I got gastro. When I went back to school, I kept getting this feeling in my tummy that made me think that I had gastro. This is when the worst of my anxiety started.

I couldn’t leave my mum’s side. I was scared that I was sick and I needed my mum there in case it happened again. I got so bad that I was too scared to leave home.

Home was my safe place. I was too scared to go to school. Mum and Dad tried everything but it was too hard. My teacher ended up giving me work to do at home and the whole class sometimes wrote nice notes for me. I really missed my friends; I hardly saw them. I missed most of term 2.

In term 3 I started getting out of the house and mum and dad said I had to go back to school. I was terrified and felt sick in my tummy all the time. Mum or Dad came to school with me every day. They sat with me in the classroom and helped me feel safe.

There was an aide in my class called Steve and he was there to help another kid. Steve started to help me so mum and dad could leave the classroom but they couldn’t leave the school. They sat outside the classroom from 9am to 3:30pm every day. They were the best. Without Steve and Mum and Dad being at school every day I would never have got through the year.

This year I am in grade 5 and I got the teacher I wanted. Miss Potts was my teacher in grade 3, the reason why I wanted her is because I knew her and I had been in her class before. Steve was also in the grade ⅚ building every morning.

Soon my class is going to camp but I’m not. I am not ready to be separated from mum and dad for that long. Dad is going to take me up there for one of the days which I am looking forward to.

The last year has really sucked but I got to do some pretty cool stuff too. Dad coached my basketball team and we made it to regionals. I knee boarded for the first time over the summer and it was EPIC! This year I was voted captain for my footy team and so far, we have only lost 1 game. I made it to Divisions in cross-country, high jump and relay events and will be going to Regionals later in the year.

When I think about how far I have come and what I have achieved over the last year I couldn’t have done it without Mum and Dad, Steve, my brother Peter, Hope (counsellor), Carol (Psychologist), Natasha (School Liaison Officer), Mr Stark (Vice Principal), May (Teacher’s Aide), My footy coach Clint, my friends, especially Scott, Nick and Bruce, my Nan, Pa and the rest of my family. I owe you guys.

Now I am 10 years old and still get a bit nervous at times to leave mum and dad. I just have to remember how far I have come and that I am ok.

This is my story up until now.



Thriving through the Impossible

My beautiful cousin, Gemma and her partner, Dane, were recently faced with one of those moments in life that tests us in ways we never imagined we’d be able to survive until we find ourselves surviving it. Just over 2 months ago, their first child, Tallulah, was born at only 27 weeks old. Thankfully, Tallulah is now finally home with mum and dad, and new mum Gemma has composed this moving piece about their tumultuous time in the hope that it might help other families navigate the overwhelming and sometimes conflicting emotions that such events expose us to.

Danielle Graber
Proud Cousin


This photo was captured the day before the day that changed the course of our lives forever.


In the early hours of the following morning, I would start to feel what I now know were labour pains. I thought the pain was my lower back playing up with the weight of a growing baby and belly and so fell back to sleep.

It wasn’t until the sun was up and I felt the pain presenting more like what I imagined contractions would feel like, that we called the midwife and arranged to meet her at the hospital – still not concerned and still not thinking I was in labour. It wasn’t until we were halfway to the hospital that I knew something was wrong.

I was already 5cm dilated when we arrived at the hospital and an hour and a half later, at 10.11am, our darling Tallulah was born.

Nothing prepared me for the sight of a baby so tiny and frail and frog-like. Nothing prepared me for the sense of fight and resilience and strength a human so young, so not done with growing could emanate. And nothing prepared me for the well-meaning ‘at leasts’ that were soon to follow.

There’s no “at least” on this journey.
“At least you didn’t get a saggy belly”
“At least you didn’t get stretch marks”
“At least you didn’t have to give birth to a heavier baby”
“At least you never became uncomfortable”

I both WANTED and WELCOMED those things and more. I loved being pregnant, loved watching my belly grow, I loved showing off my belly. That was cut short. I didn’t get my nine months of feeling all of the pregnant things. I didn’t get to wear cute maternity clothes for months, Calm birthing classes, antenatal classes, a water birth. I didn’t get to feel the strong kicks and movements for a whole nine months.

I know all births don’t go according to “plan” however, I didn’t even get close.

There’s a strong dichotomy in all of this.

On one hand I’m so angry. I want to stamp my feet, clench my fists and yell and curse at the Universe for taking away the experience I’ve dreamt of for so long.

On the other hand I want to bow down and thank the Universe with grace and humility that we have had the experience we have had. It has brought us so much love and kindness we could only imagine existed. It has brought us strength. It brought us our daughter.

On one hand I’m desperately grieving the pregnancy I didn’t get. The time to feel my baby grow, kick, get all up in my ribs, on my bladder. All of the things.

On the other hand I’m so damn happy that my baby was born alive and that she survived.

On one hand I feel a sense of frustration that my body couldn’t keep our baby safe.

On the other hand I’m so relieved my body knew it had to get our baby out to keep her safe.

On one hand I’m annoyed I didn’t get to celebrate the upcoming birth of our baby with a baby shower. To relish in that anticipation and joy with my family and my friends.

On the other hand I’m so blessed to have met amazing women who have also welcomed babies too soon. These women have enriched my life just by sharing a part of themselves with me. I’m blessed to have received so much love from people close to me and those I’ve not spoken with for a very long time. I’m blessed to have received kindness from strangers. I’m blessed to know people care about me, about us.

One emotion I’ve not felt is guilt. I know I did everything I possibly could to give our baby the best start to life. Even before I was pregnant, I was doing my best to give the little soul we were waiting for the best home in which to grow. And I got her there. I got our baby 27 weeks and 6 days along, I got her to 1120g. I got her fit and fierce for her upcoming fight for life.

Above all of this, I feel honoured.

Honoured that my wish to become a mother has come true.

Honoured that I am walking beside a man who has flowed with this journey with his whole being.

Honoured that I have felt all of these emotions for it means I have love in my life to be able to feel them and still feel joy.

Honoured that I am the mother to a fierce and wonderful girl.

A girl I’m so excited and overjoyed to spend the rest of my life guiding and loving with the whole of my heart.

My hope in sharing my story is to show that it’s ok to feel many emotions all at once and that even the dimmest light can brighten by the time you get to the end of that tunnel.


EMDR & trauma therapy

We’re very pleased to have so many of our clinicians trained in EMDR, including Magdalen, Anna & Michelle, as well as a dedicated EMDR therapist in Nina. However EMDR is still a relatively new treatment modality, and can sound more like science-fiction than an evidence-based trauma therapy, so Nina and I put together this article to explain a little about EMDR and how it can help keep the past in the past. 

Danielle Graber
Clinical Psychologist & Director

EMDR – leaving the past in the past …..

A woman, let’s call her Nancy, comes to a counselling session because whenever her partner or boss becomes irritated with her, she gets overly upset.   Nancy has a memory of being age 10, when her alcoholic step-father poked her with his finger whenever he criticised her. Now, when Nancy feels criticised, it’s almost like she is that helpless 10-year old again. Sometimes it’s like she even feels her step-father’s finger poking at her shoulder.

This is just one example of how trauma from an earlier adverse experience can impact on us in the here and now. When a past trauma is triggered by a current event, our adult brain shuts down and we can start to think and feel like the trauma is happening all over again. Any event that overwhelms our ability to cope can create a trauma reaction that stays with us into adulthood. Some of the adverse events that can lead to a trauma reaction include; neglect, abandonment, death of a parent, divorce, family violence, sexual abuse, serious medical illness, disability, war, natural disasters like fires or floods, violence, serious accidents or injury.

We may wonder why do I startle every time I hear a loud noise, a rustle in the bushes, a certain piece of music or even a smell? This is the trauma brain at work, constantly on the lookout for further trauma. It is quite separate from our wise and adaptive adult responses. Calming the trauma response and strengthening the adult ‘wise’ mind is where counselling, in particular EMDR and other trauma therapies can help.

Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, was designed to disconnect the painful, emotional responses in the present from those past memories and traumas. It was first discovered in the late 1980s by Dr Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, who serendipitously discovered EMDR during her famous “walk in the woods”, where she noticed that upsetting thoughts and feelings lessened when she sporadically moved her eyes from side to side. One of my colleagues and mentors in the United States jokes in his training workshops that the more likely version of the story is that Shapiro really discovered EMDR when she was in a Macy’s (equivalent to Myer or David Jones in Australia) car park looking frantically from side to side to find her car!

When a trauma or overwhelming adverse event occurs, it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings and this is why it can be retriggered in the present. The eye movements used in EMDR seem to unlock the nervous system and allow the mind and body to let go of the experience. Perhaps similar to the processing that occurs during REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

human brain


For a lot of people who have experienced significant trauma though, the idea of actually consciously recalling the traumatic event can be utterly overwhelming in and of itself. What if someone doesn’t want to recall the memory or associated feelings, images or body sensations? That’s when the Flash Technique, developed in mid-2016 by Dr Philip Manfield, becomes important. The Flash Technique is used to help reduce the disturbance associated with painful memories without having to consciously recall the memory or re-experiencing the pain or distress associated with the trauma. This technique can be used as a preparation tool for EMDR or on its own.  

While we don’t know the precise mechanism behind how EMDR works, the evidence is well and truly in that it does indeed work and work well.

In Nancy’s case, after a course of EMDR treatment, she described the past memories as more ‘distant’, and she could recall those memories without feeling small, belittled or defenceless. This improved her ability to assert herself and her needs and respond in the moment to criticisms without feeling overwhelmed emotionally or any unpleasant physical sensations (like that finger poking at her).

I for one feel very privileged to be involved in some of the amazing innovations that have made this possible and to be able to help clients unlock themselves from memories and traumas that have often haunted them for decades.

By Nina Zadurian
Psychologist and EMDR Therapist