When Laura Brown* was 15, she and her mother filled a taxi with as much as they could and drove away from the family home.
Fleeing violence, they moved into a women’s refuge. Brown's mother had squirrelled away $10,000.
The rest she left to her partner.
“It just wasn’t worth the court case. It wasn’t worth it with someone like that - so violent, so toxic, having that energy field. A 30-year marriage, she just walked away from it all,” Brown said.
“But when you fear for your life, you just don’t care.”
Today a trauma counsellor, Brown believes access to financial resources is key in not only fleeing violence but also in recovering from it. She believes the Medicare system is also keeping those without means trapped in ineffective therapies.
“A lot of the trauma and abuse can be financial abuse, from a controlling perspective,” she said.
“[Abusers] are controlling everything, down to the finances. [For children] our imprinting years are from age three to seven, so whatever is happening with the money in the household - that’s where the money mindset gets imprinted as well. It just keeps going down the line until it gets broken.”
For a woman who is under that level of control, it can be a completely destabilising process: they lose all sense of who they are, they can lose the ability to make decisions for themselves and how to spend their money.
“Sometimes there’s hesitation around how to get a home loan, for example, just because they’ve never done that.”
The problem can be compounded by a lack of resources for women and children to recover following a period of abuse.
Who can pay for a psychologist in Australia?
For Brown, her trauma showed up years later in a retail shopping addiction.
“There’s many different ways that we cope with the trauma and the most common way is that we have to numb and try to suppress the emotions,” she said.
“So when I was shopping, that’s what I was doing. It was just a form of numbing and forgetting. Taking me out of my body.”
As a counsellor, she believes the approach to supporting domestic violence survivors in Australia is broken and cost prohibitive for individuals.
“Yes, there is support, but the type of support is not conducive to getting a woman out of her head and her trauma… quickly. It’s a very long, slow and painful process. All we get is 10 appointments through Medicare with a psychologist in the system right now,” she said.
“[And] they’re not 10 free sessions: they’re subsidised - you get a certain amount. If you get $50 per session, but if the psychologist is charging $100 or $200, you’ve still got to pay the gap.”
She said therapists will often also tell their clients they need to come weekly, so the cost adds up quickly.
For Brown, the type of therapy that helped her recover wasn’t covered by Medicare. She used somatic therapy and now practices in the same therapy.
Somatic therapy is an alternative therapy that aims to relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and other mental health problems by focusing on and alleviating the physical sensations experienced by the client.
Brown said she spent a decade in traditional psychotherapy, but found that it was retraumatising to discuss her experience in each session.
“I just had to go outside of the system and pay my own way and find other ways.”
Brown is now calling on the Government to include somatic psychotherapy and hypnotherapy in therapies covered by Medicare.
The Government in March announced it would put $1.1 billion into domestic violence prevention and $164.8 million in support for women who are fleeing violence.
*Not her real name.
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