As our countryside comes back to life after the devastating fires, one esteemed local and her team is offering support to people who may take longer to recover.
Petrea King is familiar with seeing trauma and suffering up close.
The wellbeing teacher, author, naturopath, clinical hypnotherapist and international speaker with the soporific voice and kindly manner, has been helping and healing people for more than 20 years.
Petrea is a survivor of trauma. In 1983 she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and was not expected to live. She believes meditation and coming to terms with her own trauma helped her recovery, and in 1999, she founded her not for profit Quest for Life Centre at Bundanoon.
Situated on the edge of the vast Morton National Park, Quest’s team of counsellors, therapists, mediators and masseurs has assisted tens of thousands of people through its residential programs and workshops; former servicemen and women with PTSD, victims of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors, the gravely ill and those shattered by grief through death, divorce or depression. And now, people from across the Highlands and throughout NSW pushed to their limits by the recent bushfires.
“I was talking to one of our local GPs immediately after the fires and he said everyone was starting to come and see him with anxiety,” says Petrea. “Weeks later he told me some of the anxiety went when the rains came, but not for everyone.
“Traumatic life events – such as natural disasters – switch on human’s sympathetic nervous system and keep us constantly on high alert during the crisis,” says Petrea.
“Our cortisol and adrenalin levels go up, and that can stop us from sleeping, and interfere with digestion, memory and concentration. People can feel numb and distracted and can’t make decisions or prioritise,” she says. “At first everyone is in shock. Often it’s not until six to eight weeks afterwards people suffering trauma can start falling in a heap.”
Petrea and the Quest for Life team are experienced in working with communities in the aftermath of natural disasters. Last year it took its outreach program to the central west of NSW. In Trangie, Nyngan, Collie and Coonamble, the team worked with local communities to provide farming families with practical tools and strategies for self-care during the crippling, ongoing draught.
In January during the bushfire crisis, Quest opened its Bundanoon doors as a drop-in centre for residents. It offered emotional and psychological support, including counselling and deep meditation relaxation sessions, and is now delivering its outreach Bushfire Recovery Program into the wider community. A team of Quest counsellors is currently working with residents of the devastated village of Balmoral six days a week once a month to help those who lost their homes and their village. Funded by long-time supporters Marcus and Caroline Blackmore, Quest’s Bushfire Recovery workshops focus on providing emotional first aid to communities, and individuals. They include one-to-one counselling, deep relaxation classes and resilience building in people, families and communities.
“We’ve been working with the Balmoral community’s resilient leaders and mentoring them so they can continue to mentor others in our absence,” says Petrea.
”Our resilience and recovery will also help us identify people who have developed trauma or PTSD or who are highly anxious as a result of the bushfires, and who may benefit in taking part in one of our residential trauma programs at Bundanoon.”
After Balmoral, Petrea and her team will move to other NSW fire-affected communities including Lake Conjola, Nerriga, Araluen and Braidwood.
“We know for many affected by the recent bushfires, trauma might not surface until months after the fires have been extinguished and the emotional and human impact starts to surface,” says Petrea. “The greatest gift you can give yourself, your family and your community is the gift of your good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.”