Discourses on trauma in the South African Police Service (SAPS) focus primarily on the experience of traumatic events as the primary reason for the emotional difficulties that members experience. This study questions this dominant discourse and examines additional discourses that may contribute to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of trauma in the SAPS. The research entailed a qualitative analysis of 15 essays written by members of the SAPS, with the aim of exploring alternative discourses on the experience of trauma by police officers. The participants included fifteen male, officers from three units in the Gauteng region. The data were analysed within a psychodynamic frame, and findings suggest that police officers’ reactions to trauma are significantly influenced by factors other than mere exposure to traumatic events. The history of psychological trauma indicates that constructions of traumatic stress are strongly connected with cultural, social and political circumstances. Current psychodynamic thinking emphasises the meaning of the real traumatic occurrence, which causes trauma by changing a person’s experience of the self in relation to selfobjects. The research results suggest that the sociohistorical circumstances in South Africa, the transformation effected in the police service, and political and structural uncertainty play an important role in contributing to an overwhelming sense of loss and uncertainty. Perceived losses include the loss of the supportive police subculture, loss of meaning in their work, loss of a sense of masculinity as well as loss of a sense of competence and agency. Findings further reveal that officers’ experience a sense of being overwhelmed, powerless and helpless in the face of these historical and organisational changes. These feelings generate significant anxiety and impact negatively on officers’ self-esteem. Feelings of omnipotence and invulnerability, which are necessary for effective coping in the policing environment, are negatively affected. Furthermore, without the existence of a supportive social group, this anxiety becomes uncontained and unmanageable.
Thesis (PhD (Psychotherapy))--University of Pretoria, 2007.