Dr Cathy Kezelman – The Blue Knot Foundation

Queen Victoria Women

Dr Cathy Kezelman

by Nicole Smith

Tragedy struck Dr. Cathy Kezelman almost twenty years ago when her niece Angie died in a car accident. Working as a General Practitioner in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, Cathy thought she had a comprehensive understanding of grief.

However this untimely death triggered previously buried memories and emotions to surface in her conscious mind, “I started having panic attacks and sank into a deep depression.  After two decades, I had to leave medicine, because I wasn’t functioning. At the time I thought I was going mad; my medical training didn’t help.”

A survivor of childhood emotional and sexual abuse, Cathy began experiencing flashbacks where she was reliving fragments of what had happened to her. She had no concept of time and would re-live the sensations and the fear without any understanding of what was happening to her.

Cathy became very unwell; virtually bed-bound and experiencing suicidal ideation. Married with four children, she retreated into herself and everyone else ceased to exist.  She became detached from reality and suffered crowding of thoughts, describing like a marketplace in her head. She believes dissociation has been sensationalised in the media, but at the core it is an amazing defence mechanism to prevent the psyche from becoming overwhelmed.

Cathy’s road to recovery began when she started therapy and writing a book, published as Innocence Revisited: A Tale in Parts in 2010. During her period of recovery Cathy began reading every book she could find in the library around psychology and trauma. This research led to her involvement in Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA). Although the organisation was fledgling at the time, it provided a place for survivors to belong: “You can often feel like an absolute alien, so it was invaluable to learn that although I was terrified, I wasn’t mad. Indeed the way I’d survived made total sense in the context of the trauma.”


Volunteering for close to a decade until the organisation could afford to support paid roles, Cathy held leadership roles within ASCA for the past twelve years, becoming the org’s president in February 2012.

ASCA was eventually renamed The Blue Knot foundation to be more inclusive for those who have experienced trauma and to symbolise the intricacies of childhood trauma. And the blue? It’s a calming colour symbolising the opportunity for recovery, which was important to Cathy – “We wanted to embody more than just surviving – it’s about recovery and resilience.”

The Blue Knot Foundation supports the 1 in 4 Australian survivors of childhood trauma with information and resources, like their helpline. Cathy says “we have found there is a lack of specific understanding from generic helplines, despite their best intentions. One phone call with the right person who understood, changed my life.”

Since early 2013, a Royal Commission has been held into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The investigation has looked into why the system has failed to protect children in public, private and non-government organisations from abuse. As part of this enquiry over 7,000 victims of institutionalised sexual abuse have told their story to a commissioner, victims who Cathy notes “need to be acknowledged for their strength and resilience in surviving”.


In 2015 The Royal Commission’s consultation report, recommending a redress scheme for victims, totally $4.37 billion. These funds would go toward improving psychological and counselling services for survivors and financial compensation for survivors. If requested, survivors would also receive a response from the institution responsible

The Commonwealth Redress Scheme is an ‘opt-in’ proposal for all states and territories, and non-government organisations and charities will be later invited to join the scheme. The Federal Government pledged $33.4 million in the 2017 – 2018 budget to establishing the scheme, which will last approximately a decade from 1st July  2018.

Cathy says the establishment of a Royal Commission, and in turn more conversation around family violence and sexual abuse, has encouraged more survivors of abuse to come out of the shadows to courageously share their experiences.

“The Royal Commission has changed the landscape not just in this country but globally. However the positive legacy needs to grow and flourish; we need to see ongoing changes to legislation, to improving survivor support, justice, and child safe organisations.”

“The Commonwealth Government is certainly showing leadership with the scheme but it’s a work in progress, not the be-all and end-all. In fact, the stories the Commission has heard in the private sessions are the tip of the iceberg”, she says.

Educating the wider community about the reality of abuse is one of the most important determinants of positive outcomes for survivors: “All humans should be traumaiinformed; the media tends to sensationalise abuse and focus on worst cases, which can cause shame and silence victims. Therefore, it is critically important to educate people about the long-term impact of abuse, how to talk to people who disclose their experience of abuse, and how to access pathways to support”.

Training around the impact of abuse needs to be improved within the legal and justice sector, and the medical community, particularly for General Practitioners. In addition, the Government needs to invest more in training for those working directly with survivors. Often this trauma is inflated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so it is critical that survivors are made to feel safe, and are assisted to regulate their anxiety and emotions. Access to appropriate services is essential because people can recover from this disabling condition.

On Australia Day 2015 Dr Cathy Kezelman was awarded a Member of the Order (AM) of Australia for her services to mental health. While she is deeply honoured by the recognition, for Cathy the key driver is recognition of the cause, “the AM helps me open doors and be listened to. My aim is to keep the issue of childhood trauma on the national agenda.”

If you are a survivor of childhood trauma or abuse, please reach out. Contact the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 or visit https://www.blueknot.org.auBlue Knot Day is  October 29 2018.

This article was republished from Nicole Smith’s website Blank Pages & Empty Spaces website.


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Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith is a Melbourne-based writer who dreams of talking to interesting people and working on her laptop in hipster cafes. A recipient of a Write-ability Fellowship from Writers Victoria, she hopes to shift society’s focus to people doing good for her community.

You can follow her Facebook page or website for more information.

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