• Dr Jacob D. van Zyl

Me and Tree Blog 21


by Dr. Jacob D van Zyl tel 013 752 2000

Practice@37A Ehmkestreet, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, SA

BLOG (21/3) posted on 2019/02/27– check this blog for the next update in about two weeks to one month’s time



In the previous blog I defined trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in order for you to identify the symptoms either in yourself or a significant other. I pleaded not to ignore the signs – to rather find professional help for yourself or the significant other person because there is help available.

In this blog I put the focus on the aspect of loss regarding trauma as well as post-traumatic stress disorder – I emphasize the phase of shock and denial.

There is a connection between the reaction of people who experience trauma, and people who have lost someone through death. A notable sense of loss can pertain to the loss of vehicles – and often lives – through hijackings. Precious and irreplaceable items of sentimental value that are lost in assaults, housebreaking and theft. In the case of a rape incident, a woman can lose her virginity, pride, and feeling of security. In the event of a car accident one can experience the loss of a loved one or even the loss of a limb. The experience of trauma can be divided into different period phases. These were first described by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, when she researched people’s reactions after the death of a loved one. In the past I counselled a man after he and his father were attacked in Johannesburg. His father was killed right in front of him by a gunshot wound. The son himself, also sustained a wound. There are two levels of loss involved in this incident: his father who died as well as his own health. He previously used to be healthy and active; but now he is crippled, has difficulty walking and is experiencing tremendous pain.

The five phases forming part of a person’s reaction to loss, do not necessarily occur chronologically. They are neither linear nor static, but form part of a dynamic process.

1. Shock and denial

2. Aggression and anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

In this blog I will emphasize the initial phase of the reaction of shock and denial

People often react with shock and denial in response to trauma. It is normal to be shocked after a traumatic incident. It indicates the huge impact the situation has on the person. To deny or repress the event in the unconscious mind and consequently not talk about it, is a hazardous reaction which often results in a delayed reaction. For this reason it is so important to encourage people to talk about the trauma. Every time the person talks about it, therapy is happening. Some people who come to see me after trauma, indicate that they are so tired of repeating the story to everybody. I assure them that it is indeed necessary because the trauma information in the brain then gets an opportunity to be transferred from the most primitive part of the brain (the amygdale in the brain’s medial temporal lobe shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions) to the prefrontal cortex (of which the functions are the planning of complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making and moderating of social behaviour) – a place in the brain where the information can be used in a much more constructive way. In this way poison becomes gold.

In therapy I encourage people to talk somewhat differently about the trauma, than they would to friends and family: I ask the person to relate the event in the present tense – as if it were happening right now. This is what one man told me: ‘… The two men grab me. They tie me up with my hands behind my back. They blindfold me. They pull me into the toilet. The next moment I feel a revolver at my temple. I am thinking: This is my end. I’m going to die. God please help me. I accept that I am going to die now. Then I hear the other one talk to the one holding the revolver. They move away. I hear how they lock the toilet. I can hear them carrying things from the house. Later they start the pick-up vehicle. I hear them driving away… I am scared they will come back to kill me. But I also can’t believe that they let me live. God is giving me a second chance …’After this the client began to weep as a way of finding catharsis – the process of releasing, and thereby providing release from strong or repressed emotions.

To tell what has happened as if it is happening now (in the present time) has a huge impact on the patient’s processing of the trauma in his thoughts. It is a very effective form of debriefing. It is as if the person is experiencing the trauma again, but this time with a difference. He /she experiences the event in the safe, warm and supportive environment of the therapeutic space. The patient receives the positive message of survival from himself, his subconscious mind as well as from the therapist; and that he will be okay to carry on with his life again. It reduces the impact of the event and the accompanying shock.

In the next blog I hope to reflect on the next phase of loss, namely the reaction of aggression and anger.

Feel free to send your questions regarding trauma to or contact my rooms at 013 752 2000 in order to make an appointment.


© 2018 by 4 Keep Sakes 

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