Saturday, November 03, 2012

Am I Recovered Yet?

Today on our local public radio station I heard an interview with Tonier Cain, a team leader for the National Center for Trauma Informed Care. Ms. Cain is a renown speaker who has appeared at multiple national venues to talk about her horrific childhood history of sexual and physical abuse, multiple adult arrests, history of prostitution and drug abuse, and incarceration in our own Maryland prison system. Her story is remarkable for her 180 degree transformation to become an accomplished organizer and advocate. She has repeated her narrative many times online, on the radio, and even in local theater. She frequently speaks to women prisoners to talk about the importance of trauma recovery therapy.

I was familiar with her story because the state of Maryland passed a law last year which mandated that anyone working in a state facility must be given training in trauma-informed care. I went through this training myself where I saw a shortened version of the documentary "Healing Neen," about Ms. Cain. Following the presentation the instructor asked what we thought about the film. Everyone in the room thought that it was wonderful, that Ms. Cain's story was amazing, that the trauma recovery treatment she had had was miraculous.

"Isn't it amazing how she has overcome her trauma?" the instructor asked.

I should have kept my mouth shut. I really should have.

But I couldn't help myself.

"But she hasn't recovered!" I blurted out. "She just reshaped it. She has recreated her personal and professional identity around her trauma narrative." And that's true---she is now a professional trauma victim/survivor. How is this overcoming her past? How is this recovery?

The room fell silent. People looked at me, a bit aghast and shocked. Some people tried to explain: "Well, you don't ever really COMPLETELY overcome the past, you just learn to live with it."

Well OK, that sounded reasonable. But wasn't the point of the trauma recovery movement that you actually are supposed to recover? That at some point, you stop being a patient? I mean, when I treat someone my goal is complete recovery----zero symptoms----that's what I call recovery. My goal is to free someone from being my patient, as much as possible.  Isn't that the goal of the trauma-recovery movement?

Maybe I just was uninformed. Maybe I needed to read more about it.

I did a PubMed search using the terms "outcome" and "trauma-informed care." This search produced all of four articles. One focussed solely on trauma-informed interventions to reduce seclusion and restraints in the hospital. Another paper discussed the dirth of outcome-based evidence for trauma informed care for people with schizophrenia. There were no controlled trials, nothing in the way of any standard study of anything related to trauma informed care.

Yet education about this recovery movement and treatment approach is being mandated by our state government. There's something seriously wrong here. An intervention with no evidence base is being required and weighed on the same level as a requirement for CPR certification.

The trauma recovery and prevention movement also has moved into the domain of disaster psychiatry. This is the idea that prompt mental health intervention can prevent longterm psychiatric complications for people who experience traumatic events. I've written about this before on the blog in my posts "I Don't Need to Talk" and "I Still Don't Need to Talk", including a review of studies to suggest that for some people these interventions may actually be harmful. In his Mental Illness Policy blog, DJ Jaffe expressed similar concerns in his post "NYS Office of Mental Health: Wrong Response to Hurricane Sandy," where he discussed the diversion of mental health workers to crisis counseling and away from services for the seriously mentally ill.

Government money for mental health services is limited, and should be directed toward people with serious mental illnesses and evidence based practices.