Topic 1:Trauma and Recovery

I am privileged to now be a part of a Social Workers Forum in Cape Town which focuses on refugees, youth and women. The forum is meant to have small group presentations and discussions once a month. I will be having an opportunity to present my own topic as well so this is so exciting. This kind of networking opportunity was absent for me in the first four years of my career and I really just felt a resounding “silence” of social workers in Cape Town. I am happy to have a circle of professional social workers to share their different experiences and knowledge of the profession.

The first group session with the ladies started yesterday 06/02/2013 and the topic of discussion was Trauma and Recovery taken from the bookm“Trauma and Recovery” : From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Lewis Herman. Social Worker from the Adonis Musati Project presented and it was very insightful. The presentation focused on the stages of recovery from trauma and what was interesting for me was realizing that it is not an automatic process to get someone to
recover from trauma. As a therapist or by stander as the books calls it one has to be careful of the contradictions so as not to cause secondary abuse. The client should be able to tell their story as a way of reliving it and thereby dealing with it, but this should be done only after the client is ensured of safety first. Safety includes ensuring that the client who is a victim of abuse or a traumatic incident has taken care of her immediate environment, her body, material needs and relationships before they start delving into the details of the trauma.  Only then can they share their story and mourn.  The last stage is where they restore their connection to society and take back their power by redefining their dreams and goals and getting courage to move on. The stages look like this:

  • Establishing
    safety
  • Reconstructing
    the trauma story
  • Restoring
    the connection between survivors and community

The discussion that ensued was very enlightening. The main point for me was that society cannot begin to address women’s trauma in sexual and domestic life unless we also challenge the subordination of women and children. Unless the patriarchal and sexist society has been dealt with issues of women’s trauma by partners will not be completely resolved.  Issues such as returning back to the abuser due to cultural influences like ‘he is the breadwinner’, the Stockholm syndrome which talks about feelings of attachment to the abuser/hostage situation and the feelings of powerlessness the abused feels. There are so many factors that came up in particular trauma found in refugees fleeing war-torn countries. The need for safety is much more of a necessity in their case as they always fear persecution.

I must say I learnt a lot about how to deal with trauma just from this one presentation. Just learning that even with the children I work with I need to be sure the child is safe before they pour out their story, which means they need to build a trusting relationship with the therapist first.  Also knowing that resolving trauma is never a complete process, that the trauma will recur if triggered by some other life event for example a child who loses his father at 5 will mourn his father at every milestone: at 16, at 21, at 40. So it’s a never-ending process and we need to understand this and not push our clients
to a point of complete recovery. They can always come back and start the recovery process.

Another plus for attending this presentation was that I receive CPD points. CPD stands for Continued Professional Development and each social worker is requested to have a certain number of points per year. So I am on the right track.

Thank you for the forum idea; it is a most welcome opportunity for interaction and professional development. You never stop learning!!!!

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