Posted in Stories of Hope

Be Trauma Wise


South Africans have over the years, experienced high levels of violent crime. The resulting aftermath is a population who need immediate access to support. Although this places additional pressure on services in communities, survivors are not always able to access help immediately post an incident. Effective Trauma Support provided to survivors on a scene may minimise the long-term effects of trauma.

Many South Africans, including Law Enforcement Personnel and Emergency Responders do not understand or acknowledge the effect a traumatic situation can have on a person’s emotions, thinking, behaviour, beliefs and relationships.

Understanding what traumatic stress is and how it effects a person will ensure support is offered in a non-threatening but encouraging manner.

Law Enforcement personnel need to be convinced that managing a victim in this manner may also improve their ability to investigate and respond to crime and thus increase successes.

Personnel can be trained efficiently and effectively whilst minimising logistical challenges using the TRAUMA WISE awareness model.


The Trauma Wise model provides first responders with an understanding of the processes needed to be followed to assist a survivor without causing more harm. A first responder, already being on scene, can therefore assist until handing over to a Chaplain or Trauma Support Volunteer.

Trauma Wise identifies the following principles:

  • Building trust,
  • Ensuring safety,
  • Validating the incident,
  • Psychoeducation,
  • Restoring control and minimising helplessness
  • Providing emotional support where needed
  • Empowering a survivor by advising them of what may happen or what needs to happen

The four Trauma Wise steps emphasize these healing principles whilst ensuring an easy to remember process of what will assist survivors.

Used in partnership with the World Health Organization ‘s Psychological First AID (PFA) training, First Responders will have a complete toolkit to assist survivors in the South African context

Posted in Stories of Hope

Care of the wounded warrior

Who rescues the rescuer?

Who takes care of the wounded warrior

when the wounds are invisible?


Countless articles and blogs have been written about the effects of trauma and stress on first responders, so many that we become blasé about the effect of trauma and stress on Fire, Police and EMS Personnel. Each day, these men and women put on their uniform and pin their badge to their chest and go out into our communities to save us, to rescue us, to protect us. When their shift ends, they always remain vigilant, on duty – their #soulbadge remains pinned to their hearts.

But some get wounded because of their work –  long lasting deep emotional and psychological wounds carried around while fulfilling their duty.

The Xhosa people speak about a healing ceremony called Ukubula, a confessional telling of what you have done ( and seen)  before the community..”  The community’s role is to “tolerate the pain of listening, no matter how difficult. The community carries the burden and pain of what happened and the warrior is forgiven and healed from private suffering (Warrior’s Return: Restoring the Soul After War -Edward Tick)

Perhaps,  we need to offer our First Responders – our Police Officers, our Firemen and Paramedics an opportunity for Ukubula, by acknowledging their service and saying thank you – we support you.

This is a plea – a passionate plea for us as members of all the communities in and around South Africa to acknowledge our First Responders and to recognize the risks they face each day.

Posted in Stories of Hope

Online Safety – Reposted Article

Media Matters: Online Safe Spaces for Trauma Survivors: A Helpful Source of Social Support?

Posted 24 October 2016 in StressPoints by Charla Rhodes, BA

The ISTSS Blog : StressPoints

A safe space is a place in which individuals can find refuge and protection from insensitivity, discrimination, persecution, and other potentially negative experiences. Debate on the utility of safe spaces at universities grows more controversial as college campuses struggle to address the growing numbers of students calling for their presence. The University of Chicago took a strong stance when they penned a letter to the incoming freshman class stating that they do not support “trigger warnings and safe spaces.” Conversely, California State University at Los Angeles recently announced that it would offer “black-priority housing” as a response to Black Lives Matter protestors’ call for “a safe space to congregate, connect, and learn.” While the presence or absence of these spaces at universities is fiercely debated, the internet continues to thrive as a mecca of safe space groups.

An important component of trauma-informed care is creating a safe space. However, many trauma-exposed individuals do not initially seek treatment. With the widespread availability of the internet and potential anonymity, many individuals turn to online resources. There are thousands of different virtual safe spaces available online to trauma survivors. Some of these spaces are created on Facebook as “groups,” which can have as few as two members to as many as ten thousand. Each group has a guiding set of rules and principles and is oriented towards a specific group of people.

For example, there are many available groups for general “Survivors of Trauma,” as well as more specific groups created for “Female PTSD Survivors of Childhood Trauma,” “Survivors of Ecclesiastic Abuse,” and trauma survivors in specific geographic regions. Some of these groups are publically searchable, but many are not so as to protect the identities of the group participants.

Methods of joining and participating in a safe space vary depending on the platform. For example, on Facebook, an individual interested in participating in a given group requests to join and is accepted or rejected by a moderator. Once in a group, members have the ability to post topics for group discussion and participate in posts initiated by others. Members share news stories and articles relevant to their trauma, or share personal experiences. The specific group rules dictate the ways in which other members can respond. Members who do not adhere to the group rules, often by posting triggering material or making offensive comments, are removed by moderators and blocked from re-joining. In short, sense of safety is the priority.

Proponents of online safe spaces, especially those who actively utilize them, suggest that engagement in these groups can be vital for an individual’s mental health. In one study, participants who self-harmed reported that virtually connecting with others offered a sense of community and could be a valuable tool to get support and advice (Whitlock, Powers, & Eckenrode, 2006). In another study, online spaces served as a “sanctuary” for individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa (Gavin, Rodham, & Poyer, 2008). Indeed, having a sense of community and social support has been shown to serve as a protective factor for veterans against psychopathology and community reintegration problems (Thomas & Bowie, 2016; Smith et al., 2016). Online spaces can serve as an accessible and effective community for trauma survivors.

However, safe spaces may not be adaptive for everyone and might even cause harm. For example, trauma exposure (i.e., child maltreatment) was a significant predictor of Internet addiction; PTSD symptoms served as a mediator in that relation (Hsieh et al, 2016). Spending excessive amounts of time online can function as a maladaptive coping mechanism or self-medicating behavior, comparable to other types of addiction (Hsieh et al, 2016).

Additionally, some online spaces aimed at survivors are anything but safe. Some researchers have noted that online forums may normalize dangerous coping strategies or discourage members from seeking professional services (Gavin, Rodman, & Poyer, 2008). For example, a plethora of pro-suicide and pro-nonsuicidal self-injury websites are easily accessible online. Many websites and chat rooms provide information on the pros and cons of various suicide and self-harm methods and often offer encouragement to readers to engage in described acts.

As safe spaces continue to grow and more people turn to electronic and virtual forms of support, ongoing research investigating the impact of participation in online safe spaces by trauma survivors is necessary. Despite the widespread utilization of safe spaces, there is very little research, particularly with trauma-exposed individuals, regarding the utility and efficacy. The clinical implications, particularly whether these online safe spaces should be championed or avoided, are also noteworthy, as we continue navigating uncharted territory of safe spaces.

About the Author

Charla Rhodes, BA, is a research technician at the Boston VA Healthcare system under the mentorship of Dr. Brett Litz. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with degrees in psychology and anthropology. She plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology and hopes to conduct community-level research with underserved populations.


Gavin, J., Rodham, K., & Poyer, H. (2008). The presentation of “pro-anorexia” in online group interactions. Qualitative Health Research, 18, 325-333.

Hsieh, Yi-Ping, et al. (2016). Associations between child maltreatment, PTSD, and internet addiction among Taiwanese students. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 209-214.

Smith, N. B., Mota, N., Tsai, J., Monteith, L., Harpaz-Rotem, I., Southwick, S. M., & Pietrzak, R. H. (2016). Nature and determinants of suicidal ideation among US veterans: Results from the national health and resilience in veterans study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 197, 66-73.

Thomas, V. & Bowie, S. (2016) Sense of Community: Is it a Protective Factor for Military Veterans? Journal of Social Service Research, 42, 313-331.

Whitlock, J., Powers, J., & Eckenrode, J. (2006). The virtual cutting edge: The Internet and adolescent self-injury. Developmental Psychology, 42, 407-417.

Posted in Stories of Hope

Repost -My Story of Survival: Battling PTSD

by P.K. Philips

“I’m no longer at the mercy of my PTSD, and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. It’s never too late to seek help.”

My Story of Survival: Battling PTSD

It is a continuous challenge living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I’ve suffered from it for most of my life. I can look back now and gently laugh at all the people who thought I had the perfect life. I was young, beautiful, and talented, but unbeknownst to them, I was terrorized by an undiagnosed debilitating mental illness.

Having been properly diagnosed with PTSD at age 35, I know that there is not one aspect of my life that has gone untouched by this mental illness. My PTSD was triggered by several traumas, including a childhood laced with physical, mental, and sexual abuse, as well as an attack at knifepoint that left me thinking I would die. I would never be the same after that attack. For me there was no safe place in the world, not even my home. I went to the police and filed a report. Rape counselors came to see me while I was in the hospital, but I declined their help, convinced that I didn’t need it. This would be the most damaging decision of my life.

For months after the attack, I couldn’t close my eyes without envisioning the face of my attacker. I suffered horrific flashbacks and nightmares. For four years after the attack I was unable to sleep alone in my house. I obsessively checked windows, doors, and locks. By age 17, I’d suffered my first panic attack. Soon I became unable to leave my apartment for weeks at a time, ending my modeling career abruptly. This just became a way of life. Years passed when I had few or no symptoms at all, and I led what I thought was a fairly normal life, just thinking I had a “panic problem.”
Then another traumatic event re-triggered the PTSD. It was as if the past had evaporated, and I was back in the place of my attack, only now I had uncontrollable thoughts of someone entering my house and harming my daughter. I saw violent images every time I closed my eyes. I lost all ability to concentrate or even complete simple tasks. Normally social, I stopped trying to make friends or get involved in my community. I often felt disoriented, forgetting where, or who, I was. I would panic on the freeway and became unable to drive, again ending a career. I felt as if I had completely lost my mind. For a time, I managed to keep it together on the outside, but then I became unable to leave my house again.

Around this time I was diagnosed with PTSD. I cannot express to you the enormous relief I felt when I discovered my condition was real and treatable. I felt safe for the first time in 32 years. Taking medication and undergoing behavioral therapy marked the turning point in my regaining control of my life. I’m rebuilding a satisfying career as an artist, and  I am enjoying my life. The world is new to me and not limited by the restrictive vision of anxiety. It amazes me to think back to what my life was like only a year ago, and just how far I’ve come.

For me there is no cure, no final healing. But there are things I can do to ensure that I never have to suffer as I did before being diagnosed with PTSD. I’m no longer at the mercy of my disorder and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. The most important thing to know is that it’s never too late to seek help.

Posted in Stories of Hope

Choose healing over silence

–  by Claire McFarlane

Support Claire Mcfarlane by going to her blog : Project Bra . org

This piece was published in South Africa on 8 December 2015 at and in the USA on 4 February 2016 at


If you had asked me sixteen years ago, what I thought ‘healing’ meant, I would have replied that it had to do with getting over an illness or recovering from an injury. I would never have thought that healing was all about wholeness and restoring not only the body, but also the mind and the spirit. That was of course until a fateful night in 1999, when I was brutally raped and left for dead on the streets of Paris, France. 

Like many rape survivors, I quickly chose denial as a form of healing. I was 21 years old, I had my life and I wasn’t going to let that man take any more of it. I believed that talking about the attack gave the power to my perpetrator. I was so wrong. Silence allows a rapist to continue inflicting pain. When a rape survivor gets stuck in the cycle of denial, they deprive themselves of the ability to heal properly, to grieve over the damage that has been caused and eventually, to rebuild a new life. 

I only understood this myself ten years after the attack. The man who had so viciously raped me, was apprehended in 2009 through a DNA match. He had reoffended. My world came tumbling down and I braced myself for an arduous battle through the French justice system. In France a victim has very few rights. I was forced to relay the details of my rape over and over again for two and half years before the case went to court. This was one of the hardest, darkest moments of my life. I knew then that I had to come to terms with what happened. I needed help. I needed to heal. 

It took immense courage for me to embark on the road to recovery, to face the horrors of rape and all the challenges that it brings. Contrary to popular belief, healing is most certainly not blissful, even though it will lead to bliss. It’s scary. I often whispered to myself, ‘do I really have to go there?’. The answer was always ‘yes’, because turning around was no longer an option.  

The healing process for rape survivors is not linear. There is so much blame and shame that surrounds rape, that many survivors fear judgement, even their own. Rape rips away a woman’s most intimate being, her sexuality. Her self-worth is shattered to pieces. The complexity of rape and its circumstances often makes denial seem like the safest option. Access to the right kind of support can be difficult to find, and financial situations may also dictate what a rape survivor can or cannot pay for. Each survivor is unique and will need help at different stages of her life. 

My story of survival lasted sixteen years, all of my adult life. I still have difficult days and I’ve accepted that the healing will take time. One thing I have learnt through all of it, is to be kind and gentle on myself. Physical activity has also played an integral part in my recovery process. I took up running and CrossFit. Both have been a powerful way of healing, strengthening my mind as well as my body. Finding a sense of peace has also been important for me. Yoga and meditation have helped calm the inner struggle and self-help books have been my soul food.

I believe that breaking the silence is the key to healing. If you have experienced sexual violence or you now someone who has, reach out. Keeping your story untold will only eat away at you and cause so much more suffering. So where can you go? If you don’t feel safe talking to family or friends, reach out to a non-profit organisation. These organisations are there for you and will respect your privacy. It is never too late to make the decision to heal!

Get involved with Project Bra

Posted in Stories of Hope

Upcoming Training – Trauma Support


Trauma Wise

An introduction to traumatic stress and trauma support practices.
( accredited for 15 CPD Points)

This course is aimed at organizations, lay counsellors and individuals needing a substantial understanding of the effects of trauma to provide better assistance to victims of violent crime and traumatic incidents.
 Introduction to traumatic stress.
 Trauma field in South Africa.
 Traumatic stress response.
 Definition of traumatic stress.
 Types of trauma & Types of victims
 4 Phases of traumatic stress.
 Post traumatic stress reaction.
 Post traumatic stress disorder.
 Acute stress disorder
 Supporting Victims of Trauma
 Trauma Support / Crisis intervention
 Introduction to Trauma lay counselling model