Dr. Erika Parker

M.A. Clinical Psychology
Ph.D. Pastoral Counseling

11 Willow Road, Northcliff, Johannesburg, South Africa Tel: 011 678 5978

in Northcliff, Johannesburg

registered clinical psychologist in Johannesburg north trauma counseling

Working with trauma:
Exploring the meaning given to a traumatic event

registered clinical psychologist in Northcliff trauma counseling

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People often wonder why one person will go through a very bad, painful event and come out the other side with no apparent serious after effects… while another experience a similar event as devastating? The popular (and even “professional” view) is that the people who do not show symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome after a traumatic event are just cleverer at hiding the effect of the traumatic experience. They reason that any serious trauma, e.g. rape, violent assault or an armed robbery/hijacking, will mentally scar you for live.

But is this really true?

Research has shown that it is not the actual event that creates or determines the outcome. It is the meaning the person gives to an event that determines the impact of the event. People who have a severe reaction after trauma usually have common elements in the negative perspective they develop about the traumatic event.

1.   They interpret the event as a serious violation of important values they hold about living. The values (read: criteria) might be thoughts about safety, security, self-worth, life as predictable, over confidence that events like these will not happen to me, etc.

2.   They experience (read: interpret) the resulting psychological pain as above their "threshold of tolerance.” It is experienced as something that is more than they can take/handle. This feeling of "more than I can take/handle" is actually their perspective on themselves and their available strategies for dealing with extremely painful experiences.

3.   This experience is taken out of the context in which it happened and generalised to other contexts. This means that their interpretation of the specific situation (A) becomes generalised to other situations (B ) because of a resemblance between them. When situations B occurs the person will experience this situations as if it is the same as A – thus resulting in the re-experiencing and a compounding of the effect of the traumatic experience.

4.   When they think about the experience (e.g. when they experience a flashback) they remember it as if they are in the event in the here and now, as if it is happening again at this very instant i.e. as if it is repeating itself in the here and now.

In summary: how people interpret traumatic events (the kind of meaning they give these events) determines the experience of the event as manageable or intolerable. It is the personal interpretation of the event (more than the event itself) that determines the outcomes. It therefore means that if these interpretations can be changed, the experience can be changed.

In the approach I use,

1.    I will help you to re-interpret the events in ways that you do not have to experience the strong negative emotions that resulted from the event over and over again.

2.    I will tecah you to rethink the event from a place of learning and to master the process of effectively manageing the meaning you give to the event and the emotions associated with all  outcomes of the event.

3.    I will help you to regain confidence, consciously limit the effects of the event and to reclaim your life.