It is estimated that at least 5 million South Africans (10% of the population) have been affected by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a level that can be recognised and treated by a psychologist.
Victims are our families and friends, neighbours and colleagues – anyone who has experienced violent crime, hijacking, rape, family abuse, a serious car accident, even a chronic illness. What’s more, the aftershocks of trauma go far beyond the victim, negatively impacting families and even communities. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the unseen cost to the country’s economy as a result of the many medical and behavioural problems that accompany PTSD is approximately R40 billion a year.
The high price of hurt
In essence, trauma can be defined as a deep psychological wound, one that has a profound impact on the emotional wellbeing and everyday functioning of the sufferer. Often, thoughts become consumed by the traumatic incident, making concentration near impossible, decision-making unclear and coping abilities frail. Reactions, which may include shock, confusion, numbness, depression and anxiety, can range from mild to severe and can persist for weeks, months, or even years following the initial event. PTSD is a particular set of reactions that can develop in those who have endured trauma and sufferers often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to that felt during the event itself. It is not unusual for people with PTSD to suffer other mental-health difficulties at the same time, problems such as depression, anxiety disorder or addiction, which develop directly in response to the traumatic event or have followed the PTSD.
PTSD does not distinguish between race, age, gender, wealth or social standing and, devastatingly, its effects are not just confined to those who are directly exposed to a traumatic event. Research shows that trauma has a range of impacts on family members, their relationships with each other, and the overall functioning of the family unit itself. A parent who is unavailable because he or she is struggling with PSTD, may neglect the needs of his or her children, and, when stress becomes too overwhelming, partners might have problems communicating and managing emotions and intimacy, increasing the chances of separation. Traumatic circumstances often drain families of resources, such as time, money and energy, interfering with growing, learning and working. As a consequence, members have even greater difficulty carrying out the daily routines and sustaining the important traditions that once bound them together.
Trauma reverberates across communities, too, eroding the very fabric of a functional society. It can even cross generations, creating a legacy of seemingly unending despair. It is no stretch of the imagine to understand how, if unresolved, the devastating trauma of genocide, loss of culture, and forcible removal of families and communities becomes a sort of “psychological baggage”, continuously being acted out and recreated from one generation to the next.
Hope of a nation
Dealing with the emotional fallout that so often accompanies trauma is very difficult without professional help. Indeed, the role of the qualified counsellor is even more important when one considers that, if not dealt with, the after-effects of trauma can go on indefinitely, progressing to the point here they seriously impact not just the lives of sufferers but also of those around them.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to trauma therapy, counsellors effectively work to assist clients, families and even whole communities learn healthy ways of coping with the feelings that have developed as a consequence of trauma. This may include helping them to regulate strong emotions and to develop the ability to trust again. Trauma counselling provides an outlet where people can discuss their experiences and develop strategies for dealing with the ongoing difficulties they face as a result. It is, however, important that trauma counsellors provide effective and empathetic support to their patients without becoming too emotionally involved or invested in their cases.
Researchers, activists and healthcare practitioners repeatedly (and with ever-increasing urgency) call on government policymakers to address the severe levels of psychological trauma from which a large percentage of our country’s population suffers. The desperate need for more trauma counsellors in South Africa cannot be overstated. Without the crucial service these trained professionals provide, there is little hope of ever turning the tide on our nation’s inherited pain and staunching its persistent damage.
Do you think you have what it takes to be a trauma counsellor? If so, why not consider studying at SACAP? The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of accredited counselling courses, while graduates of SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology Degree are able to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as a Registered Counsellors and provide selected professional-counselling services. They also have the option of articulating into a Masters programme with a view to becoming a Psychologist. For more information, enquire today.