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Meet our experts – Dr John Cooper

Our experts

Our Practitioner Support Service team includes veteran mental health experts from a range of disciplines. Here, we introduce Dr John Cooper, a Consultant Psychiatrist who advises on specialist psychiatry and pharmacotherapy issues and has expertise in veteran mental health. He has been associated with Phoenix Australia since the mid-1990s and also oversees a youth mental health program in central Victoria.

About John

“I have been working with veterans and military personnel since undertaking my specialist training in the veterans’ psychiatry unit at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. My final year dissertation looked at PTSD in different groups of Vietnam veterans.

I have learned a lot from my patients in terms of their military training, deployments and combat, and the complex range of social and mental health responses they have. I find veterans to be practical folk who are motivated to solve problems and are a rewarding group to treat.

Over the past thirty years I have been privileged to work with the veteran community in different settings including at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS – now Open Arms), and in private practice. About five years ago I had a ‘tree change’ and moved to central Victoria. Most of my clinical work now is leading a youth mental health team where many of our young patients have significant and occasionally profound trauma histories.”

Experience insight

“The longer I work in psychiatry the more I realise trauma underpins a large part of the work we do. The problems that follow psychological trauma require an understanding of how the brain works and the way the body’s physiology responds to trauma. For veterans, you need to understand the psychological and emotional consequences, and also understand military culture and training and the nature of deployments to war. It’s important not to assume but to respectfully clarify and ask about each veteran’s background and traumatic experiences.

The treatments offered to veterans over the past thirty years are much improved. There is a much stronger evidence base for treatments that are now more readily available than in the past. This situation has improved, in part due to the work undertaken at Phoenix Australia that covers research, training, and policy advice. I have been able to bring a psychiatric perspective to these areas of work. My clinical experience allows me to view projects through the lens of direct patient care.”

What’s next?

“There is always room for improvement. We need to target our treatments better – and we need better treatments because the existing ones don’t help everybody. We need to get better at focussing on function and vocation and improving the quality of life of veterans, rather than just focussing on the disorder and symptoms. I am aware that many clinicians in the community feel anxious at the prospect of taking on some of the complex problems veterans present with. There is an ongoing need for targeted training and support for these clinicians.”

Why the Anzac Centre?

“With the establishment of the Anzac Centre we now have an excellent opportunity to address some of the gaps and deficits in the veteran service system and to coordinate with research endeavours. We have been able to further develop our relationships with international partners. This allows us to bring the most up-to-date information in veterans’ mental health to Australia. We promote the need for veterans to have the best possible treatment and we’re an important link between the veteran community, government and other organisations that have a role to play in veteran mental health.

The Anzac Centre provides an opportunity to coordinate our understanding of what is happening in the field with patients and practitioners. The Practitioner Support Service has enormous potential to positively influence the quality of treatment that veterans receive across the country. Nobody working in the field needs to feel isolated in the work they do with veterans.”

Please contact The Centenary of Anzac Centre Practitioner Support Service for advice when you need it. This is a free, confidential consultation service for health professionals and others who work with veterans and can be accessed via email or telephone on 1800 VET 777.

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