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Question
Posted by: VERY WORRIED MOM | 2007/08/02

Trauma counselling?

My son aged 24 was a victim of armed robbery in March 2007. Three gunmen broke into his townhouse at 10.00pm at night when he was home alone and held him at gunpoint for two hours. The guns were repeatedly held against head, placed in his mouth etc. At the end of this period of psychological torture and humiliation they left taking just a cellphone and some clothing.He insists that he is "alright" and does not need help in the way of trauma counselling. Today just four months later he witnessed an accident on the highway where three men burned to death in a vehicle.He was the first person to stop, contact the authorities then other motorists stopped to help too but despite their best efforts to save them the victims died. Two of the them died very quickly in the vehicle but the third man died in agony, still alive with half of his body burned away. My son says that he will
never forget the that poor mans' terrible screams and pleas for help.Afterwards he had to go home because he was so nauseous and shook up but still insists again that he is "alright" and refuses help in dealing with this latest trauma. I am worried sick about him as I feel that these two incidents in such a short period of time are simply too much for a 24 year old to deal with, that he will be affected by all this at a later stage and that he is simply trying to act "macho". He admits that he doesn't feel safe alone at home and if his house-mate is out overnight, he comes home to stay with us locking his bedroom door even though we have an alarm and an excellent watchdog outside plus community policing. Obviously he is feeling the post traumatic effects. How do I get him to go for professional help or am I wrong in pushing the issue. On top of all this he is a partner in a new company which is doing very well, and is very driven, ambitious and a workaholic but with all this comes stress as well. Please advise as I'm so concerned that he's going to reach "overload". Thank you.
Elaine - Witbank Mpumalanga

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Our expert says:
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What a terrible experience ! And I continue to be impressed at the degree of savage cruelty shown by such robbers. If they were purely thieves, they should have seized the cell-phone and fled --- they increased the risk to themselves by hanging around to hurt and terrify the guy, as though that was what they most enjoyed doing.
Beyond doubt your son was seriously psychologically traumatized, and it would not be at all surprising if he eveloped PTSD. Unfortunately it is also quite common, especially among men, for the victim to deny being seriously affected, and to try to assume that he is OK, however damaged he might be.
Macho men unfortunately expose themselves to more harm by denying their grief and distress. And you are then placed in a delicate position. You want to and need to encourage him to seek help, but pushing too hard can often increase his degree of denial. One needs to remain consistent, concerned, sympathetic and signal clearly that you respect him for surviving all he has been through and will thoroughly respect him whatever he decides, though maybe respecting him even more when he faces the fact that ANY normal man should be shaken by such awful experiences, and would sensibly seek expert help to limit the damage done and so as to remain active and effective.

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