Trauma Therapy


DSM 1V Definition of Trauma:
“The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present: the person experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of Self or of others.”

The word “Trauma” refers to intense feelings of shock, fear, anxiety and helplessness surrounding the cause of the trauma.   It is not the event itself that is the cause of Post Traumatic Stress Response/Disorder but it is the response to experiencing the event.

Bessel van de Kolk (1996) notes: “Experiencing trauma is an essential part of being human; history is written in blood….Some people have adapted to terrible life events with flexibility and creativity while others have become fixated on the trauma and go on to lead traumatised existences”.

Long term trauma can be dealt with so the patient can resume a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. The body itself has an innate ability to heal itself under optimum circumstances.

The gentle bodywork of Polarity Therapy not only relaxes the patient but also releases trauma held in the tissues and cells.

A successful intervention which may be used during a counselling session is the ‘rewind technique’ or (V/K) Visual Kinaesthetic Disassociation technique which when used by a trained therapist turns a traumatic memory into an ordinary memory.  It is an excellent way to detraumatise disturbing flashbacks and post traumatic stress symptoms arising from any kind of event perceived as life threatening. The technique is safe, non-voyeuristic and fast.

Learning about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and being guided through practising mindful meditation during which one focuses on the breath; practising scanning the body from feet to head; practising walking meditation; and being aware of the food we eat and how we eat; practising gentle yoga postures. Becoming aware of our body, thoughts, feelings and emotions and using and practising the above mindful meditations daily gives one a handle to hold onto and support us when we experience out of control emotions, feelings and thoughts. Regular practise of the above is very beneficial and life changing.

Not all people who experience trauma require counselling. Many people will get through this period on their own and with the support of family and friends will regain their equilibrium and zest for life within three or four weeks.

However,there are people who may become overwhelmed by what has happened; people who have experienced previous traumatic events, and others such as policemen/women; defence force personnel; war veterans; firemen/women and paramedics; doctors/nurses and others who constantly or frequently in the service of their community witness and experience traumatic situations and however “strong” they may be can one day become overwhelmed by all they have experienced and will benefit by having a trained person listen to their story and put their lives back into perspective thus preventing pathological symptoms developing later on in their life.

Childhood experiences such as hospitalization; anaesthesia, witnessing something scary i.e. an animal being run over or killed and then eaten – falling out of a tree and being shouted at by a parent – many many incidents that to an adult are not significant but can affect a child deeply and still affect their lives later on.

The following symptoms that may arise are NOT signs of weakness or anything to be ashamed of but are NORMAL physiological reactions to experiencing an ABNORMAL event such as trauma. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling without judging yourself. These are some of the symptoms that may arise following a traumatic experience and are classified under the term Post Traumatic Stress Response.

Possible Physical Reactions Which May Arise:

Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in sex, as well as aches and pains, palpitations, constipation/diarrhoea, susceptibility to colds and illnesses.

Emotional Reactions Which May Arise:

Shock and disbelief, feelings of numbness, detachment or estrangement from others, disorientation or  withdrawal.

Feeling violated, unsafe, helplessness, panic, out of control.

Racist feelings, mistrusting people, hyper-vigilance.

Tearfulness, crying for no apparent reason, feelings of guilt, feeling irritable or aggressive, restlessness.

Flashbacks; fantasizing about how one could have handled the situation differently and what one would like to do to the perpetrator of the crime.

Excessive anger; road rage.

These are some of the very normal reactions that may be experienced and which will gradually lose their “charge” and lessen and finally disappear as life gets back to normal.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

It is only when the above symptoms have been present for more than a month, or when they are extreme and are impacting badly on a person’s functioning that a diagnosis of PTSD can be made.  The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

There is an acute diagnosis given for symptoms lasting less than 3 months and a chronic diagnosis for symptoms persisting for longer than 3 months. Delayed onset is diagnosed if symptoms only arise 6 months after the traumatic event.

RECOVERY cannot occur in isolation, it can take place only within the context of relationships. Reach out and connect with others.

Talk about the traumatic experience to people you can trust. People who will listen without interrupting and without topping your story with one of his or her own or someone else’s experience.

Avoid watching the news and violent films/videos and reading newspapers.

Do cry.   Crying not only releases tension and held-in emotions but the adrenalin released into the body during the traumatic incident flows out with the tears.   Tears being water, are cleansing.

Do Aerobic exercise – walking in nature, cycling, running, working out in the gym, swimming, dancing etc. Exercise not only releases trauma held in the body but also releases the feel good opiates in the brain.

Yoga also releases trauma held in the body as well as the feel-good opiates from the brain.

Relaxation and healthy wellbeing – stretching, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, singing, dancing,  making music, drumming, listening to music, painting and writing.

Laugh. Watch funny videos & films. Keep the company of understanding people with a sense of humour.

Try meditation and prayer & Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction – see website.

Healthy nutrition. Create interesting meals for family and friends. Work on healthy sleep patterns. Avoid stimulants, in particular alcohol and drugs.

Write, draw or paint your feelings.

Hug those you love. Hugging releases the feel good endorphins in the brain and body.

Do something meaningful each day. Help someone who needs help; join a group that is helping in the community. Smile kindly at people.

Connect with nature – forests, mountains, veld, sky, the sea,  animals, plants, gardening, etc.

The Chinese character for CRISIS is a combination of two words – danger and OPPORTUNITY.

From this unpleasant experience you will discover inner and outer resources and strengths that you were formerly unaware of that can lead to enabling and empowering transformations within yourself.

UBUNTU – Umntu ngumntu ngabantu = a person is a person through other people. [African saying]