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Section 2: Lefika La Phodiso’s origins and history

Introducing trauma and locating Lefika La Phodiso’s origins and history within this context

Rozanne Myburgh

Managing director of Lefika La Phodiso and drama therapist


2.1  Trauma from a psychoanalytic perspective in the South African Context

Much of the work of Lefika La Phodiso has been informed by a visceral response to a country in a state of continuous trauma. This political and social context where symbol formation is compromised necessarily informs the theoretical approach and formulations.

“ .. the greatest burden of trauma exposure falls upon South Africans who have historically been the victims of political oppression (under the recent apartheid system but also within the broader historical context of colonization), many of whom still continue to live in conditions of poverty and disempowerment. In this sense, trauma exposure in post-apartheid South Africa remains a deeply political issue, rooted in historical dynamics of power and inequality” (Kaminer and Eagle).

This quotation sets a foundation for beginning to understand how language itself is infected by past and present power relations, that of the oppressed and the oppressor. The other forms of trauma, overlaying this fundamental traumatisation are the traumas of interpersonal violence, witness to violence, child abuse, receiving a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, often more than one of these experiences occur, constituting multiple trauma. “Continuous trauma, therefore, is better described as an underlying pattern of dissociation that has an enduring maladaptive psychosocial impact on the individual, interpersonal and community” (Benjamin and Crawford-Brown).

Understanding the prevalence and levels of trauma in South Africa is important in beginning to address the need to “reduce the burden of trauma in our society” (Kaminer and Eagle). As a result, a wealth of experience regarding the impact of continuous exposure to violence and loss on a societal and community level has accumulated but with few worded conceptual and theoretical models or a framework to guide this work. While frameworks developed elsewhere are not easily transposable to a South African context, psychoanalysis within an applied community paradigm holds potential to embrace the reflexive capacity of the complexity of the social, political and intra-psychic domain of the South African situation (Garland & Mann; Levy & Lemma).

Based on an understanding that South Africans have experienced and continue to experience an insubordinate amount of trauma on macro and micro levels, and knowing that trauma forecloses symbolic representation, the pursuit of Lefika La Phodiso’s training module is to assist in re-finding the self through elaboration, and in so doing reintegrate dissociative traumatic experience, creating a healthier society. In so doing providing sustainable community-based structures (safe-spaces), there is potential for the empowerment of individuals and communities to survive and thrive despite ongoing trauma. This framework invites “the development of a meta-theory which is more relational, less reductionistic and mechanistic, and more able to accommodate novelty, growth, change and the mentalness of mind” (Alvarez).

Within a context of an unsafe external world in relation to an uncontained (in the Bion sense) internal world, an absence or paucity of symbolic aliveness may exist. Particularly in a traumatised society like South Africa, a by-product is the violation of various boundaries and disturbance of the relationship of the self – to the memories and experiences that otherwise may nurture it. The project, in a sense is to make available as much opportunity for symbol formation as possible, sustained opportunities for meaningful internal and external connections and relationships.

In the case of trauma or traumatic experience words are often unavailable, and image-making comes to stand in for the experience and elaborate some of the unnameable horror. In so doing, the trauma is metabolised into something that can be named and transformed into useable bits.

From a counselling perspective “serious life events that cause problems are things that all people face; divorce, serious illness and being a victim of crime are amongst many traumatic events that exist. Traumatic stress can refer to a kind of stress following an unusual and unexpected event in which a person’s life is threatened, they are injured physically or they suffer real risk of being hurt. Some other stressful events that can be considered traumatic are motor vehicle accidents, assaults, rape and attempted rape, murder and attempted murder, being injured, and any violent death. People who are close to the survivor of these potential circumstances, or witnesses of these events can also be seriously affected. It is quite common for survivors to develop disabling symptoms and to question their beliefs. People often feel that their whole life has been turned upside down and will often ask “Why did this have to happen to me?”


2.2  Outline of community art counselling’s role in assisting trauma survivors

Although there are many different techniques to approaching an intervention with a trauma survivor, always important to remember is the following:

  • Create a trusting relationship.
  • Listen to and help the client tell their story.
  • Reassure and educate about traumatic stress responses.
  • Encourage and support clients to rebuild their lives.
  • Consider the impact of trauma community art counselling on you, the counsellor.

Taken from “Elements of Counselling: A Handbook for Counsellors in Southern Africa”, by Joan Shon, Lauren Gower and Victor Kotze.


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