SANDF members patrolling Olievenhoutbosch after civil unrest and looting in the country. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)
SANDF members patrolling Olievenhoutbosch after civil unrest and looting in the country. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

First the looting and now the healing: How do South Africans move on from the trauma?

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published Jul 19, 2021

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The past week has been a lot for ordinary South Africans to deal with. With parts of the country reeling from the unrest and widespread looting, many are asking: How do we come back from this?

It has been an emotionally draining roller-coaster, with some losing their homes, livelihoods and even worse.

It may even be safe to assume that South Africa is suffering from collective post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD side effects include flashbacks, high anxiety, personality changes, startle responses, mood swings and disturbed sleep.

Although typically treated with antidepressants and psychotherapy, there are several alternative healing options, says specialist self-care and trauma coach Leigh Joy Mansel-Pleydell.

But how long does it take for someone to recover from such an experience?

The simple answer could be that the more resilient someone is, the quicker they are likely to recover.

Dr Kim Laxton, a practising psychiatrist in Johannesburg, says it is difficult to determine when and to what extent a person has recovered from psychological trauma or how long this could take.

This is because there is no objective standard of what constitutes “normal” recovery time or functioning across the population.

“After experiencing psychological trauma, whether it is the experience of being a victim of a crime or perhaps having an upsetting heated argument, there are three common ways in which people react,” said Laxton.

“Either the individual will explode with anger or they could become withdrawn and unable to respond at all. These two reactions indicating a lack of resilience and an inability to control their response to address the situation and move on from it.

“The third type of response would be for the individual to temporarily experience potentially overwhelming and distressing emotions, and then find a way to move on from the experience”.

Mansel-Pleydell proposes the following when dealing with PTSD:

Tension and Trauma, Releasing Exercises: (TRE)

TRE is a series of exercises that assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma.

TRE works on the premise that the body is put through gentle physical exercises to encourage the muscles to shake or tremble.

“Whilst lying down you have to shake the trauma out of the body,” Mansel-Pleydell said.

She and TRE practitioners believe that trauma sits in the cellular memory of the body.

“This trembling helps shake the trauma lose in the body, allowing one to let it go. The trauma that sits in the body triggers memories, and the person relives the trauma.

“With TRE, trembling helps release trauma from the body, and therefore memories aren't triggered as much as the person goes through deep healing.

Dance and music

Biodanza is a form of free-movement which uses dance and music to promote self-awareness, restore health and vitality, reconnect to purpose and realise the full capacity of human potential.

“Biodanza is similar to TRE, in that through movement, trauma is released from the cells. Music is also a vital aspect of healing,” says Mansel-Pleydell.

“In my coaching practice, I have successfully married these modalities, combined with talk therapy which helps my clients' process and release latent trauma and release it from their bodies, minds and hearts.”

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