The Growing Need for Trauma Therapy in South Africa

In the past, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were mainly military veterans, mentally scarred by the sights and sounds of battle, and unable to clear their minds of these terrible images. In many cases, they would have simultaneously been attempting to cope with life-changing injuries. Without suitable trauma therapy, most would have remained incapable of living normal lives and engaging with others, while some might have eventually resorted to suicide. Today, however, it is not only returning military personnel who are experiencing PTSD, but also many of the ordinary citizens living and working in cities and towns worldwide.

Civilians, many of them children, are among the newly afflicted in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. In South African cities, like Johannesburg and Pretoria, it is not bombing raids that are driving more citizens to seek the help of psychologists, but the high incidence of violent crimes, such as rape and armed home invasions. Even beyond the city limits, many farmers and their families now live with the fear that they could be the next victims of a murderous attack. For individuals as these, having access to professional trauma therapy can be crucial. The fact that insurance policies and medical aid schemes now make provisions for the costs of such treatment, only serves to further highlight the seriousness of this growing problem.

While the cases cited above are clearly extreme examples, there are also many more commonplace occurrences that can often prove to be equally traumatic. The extremes of emotions that are frequently the result of events such as bereavement, domestic violence, the loss of a job or a divorce can all prove too difficult for one to cope with. Even though this kind of pain is an almost inevitable part of life, it does not have to result in lifelong misery. Undertaken by an experienced psychotherapist, a suitable course of trauma therapy can provide the means with which to unlock the coping mechanisms that are required for a return to a happier life.

Among the symptoms that may indicate a need for professional help are struggling to contain one’s emotions, the inability to rid oneself of frightening memories and feeling constantly threatened or in danger. Others may feel numb, distant from others and unable to trust them. Although some will eventually recover, it invariably takes time, and by far the best way to speed up recovery is the professional help offered by counselling designed to help process disturbing memories, to relieve and regulate pent-up emotions, to restore trust and to reverse any feelings of dissociation.

Unfortunately, even when aware of the need, many remain reluctant to seek trauma therapy because of the cost. They may not have medical aid or simply be unable to pay the consultation fee upfront and await reimbursement as most practitioners require.

Dr Tienie Maritz is a Pretoria-based, registered counselling and educational psychologist with almost 25 years of experience. He is adamant that cost should never obstruct a patient’s access to his help, so his below-average fees mean that most medical aids cover them fully and, if lacking medical aid or unable to pay upfront, Dr Maritz, will happily arrange easy payments.