Psychedelics and art therapy part of $3.8m Northern Rivers aid package

3 minute read

Lismore residents left with PTSD following the 2022 floods will have the chance to participate in a new, stepped-care clinical trial.

A new clinical trial in the Northern Rivers will fund arts therapy and MDMA-assisted therapy programs, as the community continues to recover from the March 2022 floods.  

Announced by Health Minister Mark Butler on Friday, a total of $3.8 million has been set aside for the initiative, which will be led by Professor James Bennett-Levy at Southern Cross University.  

Professor Bennett-Levy is best known for his work in the therapist training space but has also published on mental health in the aftermath of natural disasters and psychedelic-assisted therapies.  

The stepped-care program will be delivered in two parts.  

In the first, participants with continuing PTSD relating to the 2022 floods will undergo five sessions of arts-based therapy.  

“Our research after the 2017 floods showed that mental health problems were compounded if people were self-critical and blamed themselves,” Professor Bennett-Levy said.  

“We have therefore designed a stepped-care program with a self-compassion focus.”  

People who continue to experience PTSD following the course of arts therapy may then be eligible to move on to phase two, which involves MDMA-assisted therapy.  

Almost two and a half years on, Lismore GP Dr Nina Roberston still sees patients struggling to come to terms with the disaster.  

“I’m still seeing people every week who are suffering from the mental health impact of the flooding event, the youngest being around four years of age,” she told The Medical Republic

“The four-year-old was in his house and rescued after it was inundated, and he’s constantly asking his parents about when it’s going to flood again, what’s going to happen and when is the boat going to come?”  

Dr Robertson said the research initiative was welcome in the community, but that it was not yet clear precisely how the funding would be used.  

“It’s nice when governments put a lot of money into something, but it would be nice to see some of the detail about how that’s going to be spent,” she said.  

Following the flooding, Northern Rivers primary health professionals received grants of up to $150,000 to assist in rebuilding. The federal and state governments each put in about $2.5 million to fund the grants. 

Around 200 people will be treated as part of the trial, which will also mark the first time that psychedelic-assisted therapy is trialled in a disaster recovery setting.  

The $3.8 million allocated to the project is the largest single Medical Research Future Fund grant received by Southern Cross University to date.  

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