Sunday, August 23, 2009

Opening of Lauraine Vivian Exhibition

An exhibition of artwork by Lauraine Vivian called The Gift Returned opened at the Cape Gallery on July 26th 2009. She is an ex-client of the Trauma Centre, and she produced these computer-generated graphics while undergoing EMDR therapy with Margaret Green, a staff member working in Trauma Response. In opening the exhibition, Margaret talked about the traumatic impact of the threat of violence - something the artist had experienced when she received a death threat while director of a community-based health project.

Lauraine Vivian (right) with Margaret Green.

Short talk by Margaret Green "Healing from Violence and Threatened Violence".

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reflecting on May 2008

When xenophobic violence erupted in the Western Cape in Du Noon in May 2008, the Trauma Centre was requested by the City’s Disaster Management to co-ordinate a mental health response to the crisis – a role we have played at various times since 2005. The magnitude of this crisis was far greater than any we had been involved with before. Twenty thousand people were displaced - so we called on professional volunteers to help. 40 psychologists, social workers and chaplains attended briefings and of these, 20 members of the Cape Town Psychoanalytic Society offered to go to various sites that the City set up in church halls and municipal camps. Six members of the Society reported back this week by presenting a paper on their unconscious motives for volunteering and their reactions to the plight of the displaced people they encountered. They had supported each other by writing e-mails - thereby creating a space for reflecting on their feelings and experiences, and they also met regularly.They were not sure what they were able to achieve but what they offered was "the continuity of our mindful presence". This did seem to make a difference to some individuals and sometimes to a whole site.
Municipal camp at Soetwater before the rains came
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

International Torture Day

International Torture Day on 26th June 2009 was marked by a very successful event organized by the Political Violence Project staff. It was held at the Mandela Gateway to Robben Island situated at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. Read More or Comment

The Political Violence Program

The Political Violence team runs a variety of workshops, weekend camps and other events for ex-combatants and their families – the second generation. This picture shows how a young second generation participant felt about attending one of the weekend camps. Read More or Comment

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Self-care by Trauma Professionals

I asked the service-delivery staff what they do to deal with the stresses of their work. Here are some of their answers:

Miriam Fredericks: "I believe in using what is accessible and does not cost much. So, venturing into our garden here at the back of the Trauma Centre when overstressed and taking in the beauty around, the view of the mountains and watching the birds.

In summer, swimming just does everything for me. Now, in winter, I walk along the beach front - it’s the same - the views are stunningly beautiful and the mountains again I find very inspirational and awesome. The sounds of the waves are melodic and in the Cape storms they are truly majestic.

But now the best for last, I know it is not always practical, but introduce a child into the family. We have recently had a new addition and she is such a joy to all! A centre piece of attraction, I lose myself in playing with her, in cajoling and just being with her, and it even brings everyone together: there are more visitors as we call one another when she is around and just celebrate the sheer blessing of life!"

Gugu Shabalala: "For me a good Friday out with friends helps me forget and keeps me entertained. Also a good book about powerful female relationships and good wit (and at the moment Marian Keys is the lady of the moment in terms of authors) acts as an escape from everything else. Oh and a good season of "UGLY BETTY" also helps (I find it very funny) about the vanitys of this world."

Carmen Low-Shang: "When I get home from a very busy day at the office, I drop my bags, get onto the floor, and laugh and play with the little kids.Gives me the giggles just thinking about it."

Margaret Green: "I watch TV - movies; DVD's, football, cricket and Isidingo. This distracts me from all the horrors of the day. Lately, I was told about a wonderful DVD shop. This place will keep me going for years! Currently, I am working my way through 7 series of "The West Wing" - very clever and funny; and sometimes poignant and moving.I also go to yoga twice a week - it's body-mind nurture; and I try to get out into nature for a beach or country walk at least once a week."
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Keeping Cool - The Trauma Centre Reception Desk

Norma Neethling’s is the friendly face and warm voice that has greeted thousands of traumatised clients, visitors and colleagues to the Trauma Centre. An observant visitor, someone who drove her friend to a session and waited for her in reception, watched Norma in action for a while. She noticed how many people came in and all the demands for her attention, and then she remarked at how professional and in control Norma appeared to be all the time. Norma says, “I feel that what she noticed is correct; no matter how upset I am, I never show how I am feeling. I have to be friendly and make everything OK. It is very nice when someone notices and acknowledges what I do.”

"The Right Place"

“Something very special like that happened once” Norma continues, “a blind woman came in to the Centre. She was confused and really not sure if she was in the right place. I asked her to sit down anyway and went to make her a hot drink. While I was gone, she told Olga who replaced me, that just from the empathy in my voice, she knew she could relax. This had to be the right place!

Norma says that it is gratifying being in reception and seeing the change on people’s faces after they have had a session in the TRP room opposite. In reception, they may have been hanging their heads while waiting, and an hour later, they leave smiling. What makes her day are the children. They are often very amusing and they usually love the pond in the courtyard. Sometimes there are sad people who can’t wait and just bawl their story out to her before their session.


When the xenophobic attacks started in May 2008 and thereafter, people came streaming in. Often they were not very satisfied with what the Trauma centre could offer them. Norma said she kept her cool. She was friendly and polite and that calms them down. Someone demanded to see whoever was above the Director and we managed to calm him down and get him to leave.

Norma is the person who releases the security gate to all and sundry. She says she is always cautious. Cars in front have been broken into and other neighbouring organisations have had break-ins and robberies. She relies on her gut feelings. When she feels threatened, she removes her rings under the desk and then lets the person in. We can call our security guard to escort people out when they are causing trouble and this does happen occasionally.

Talking to Norma about her job was illuminating – I realised how much we rely on her maturity and judgement, her split-second intuition, and her considerable social skills.

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