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The Void Effect- Reaction to Trauma, Loss and Treatment of Major Illness

by Gill Ward(more info)

listed in healing, originally published in issue 188 - November 2011

As a qualified stress counsellor, I am privileged to listen to people so that they can offload their deepest fears and troubles.

The 'Void Effect' is my shorthand for a physical and mental condition recognized by respiratory physiologists and psychologists. It is also the language used by clients who use it to describe how they feel when suffering from a loss, particularly in bereavement. It is not a normal counselling procedure to check the 'inside' of a client before beginning a session, but it is a method which I use that helps me to know precisely what is happening to clients in respect of emotions and the onset of illness.  

void effect

In my observations over the last 23 years the void effect is causing serious illnesses. Through insight and personal experience, and subsequent observations of clients, I discovered the distressing and harmful effects of what I term the 'Void Effect'.  My major concern is that sufferers have no idea that the void effect is a danger to health. Grief or trauma can be long term and counselling can take many months allowing illness to develop. Research is expensive and can take years to establish.

 It is important to acknowledge the existence of the void and to recognize its implications to ill health. Awareness of the void effect could be a useful tool in diagnosis which could lead to earlier intervention and treatment. The void effect can be measured scientifically. The expiration of carbon dioxide can be measured by capnography and blood pH can also be measured using blood gas analysis. These are routine measures in an Intensive Care Unit.

 I can only suggest, in the light of my findings, that proper scientific research is carried out to learn more about the impact that the void has on the immune system and whether there is an association between the void and the onset of illness. I believe that the void effect should be used as the baseline for statistical analysis. For scientific evidence and sources, case studies and addendum please read my theory.[1] I have recently written an updated detailed description of the 'Void Effect'.[2]

Image Replacement Therapy is a speedy technique which I have recently developed and applied successfully; it displaces the traumatic image from the client's mind.[3] Clearly, any therapy must be tailored to suit each individual. If an illness has already been identified, medical intervention may be necessary, but complementary techniques are also essential. In addition, I have developed a technique for preventing the Void Effect. A demonstration DVD is available.[4] As yet, I do not know whether this technique will prevent major illness. The technique needs to be scientifically researched. However, it can prevent the stressful symptoms described in the sections below.

What is the Void Effect?
The void effect is caused by the reaction to a trauma. The mind goes into shock from the trauma, causing the vision to be blurred and the jaw to become rigid. The head feels as if it is held in a clamp or vice due to the pressure on the skull at the back of the head caused by the rigidity of the jaw. The individual struggles to remember current information as short term memory is affected. The mind feels as if it is locked, and the tragedy is imprinted on the mind of the sufferer. As the jaw pushes upwards, it also affects the hearing and sound becomes distorted. The back of the neck goes into spasm and the diaphragm contracts via innervation of the phrenic nerve, formed from the cervical nerves, C3, 4, 5. When stimulated to contract, the ribcage is enlarged, causing carbon dioxide to be removed from the body. This produces shallow breathing and the perceived void. Clients also describe two knots in the centre of the diaphragm. These may be the suprarenal glands.

The void can have a positive or negative effect. The negative effect can cause negative thinking and self destructive processes which in some cases can lead to a 'switching off' of life. A positive effect can lead to enlightenment and a new way of thinking. It can lead to a spiritual experience with new insights into self and the world.

When the void is present, it appears to be shutting down all sorts of systems which contribute to life. Memory pathways, breathing patterns, immunological and neurological pathways, thought processes, digestive system, muscular and cardiovascular changes, amongst others. It is causing all manner of illnesses to manifest themselves. Investigation by a number of scientific disciplines should prove to be an exciting project for research.

Are there Differences between the Void Effect and Hyperventilation?
In my observations, the void effect is similar to hyperventilation, but the void seems to remain long term and the patient remains traumatized, whereas hyperventilation does not last long and is transient. The void effect causes the diaphragm to feel tight and the sufferer finds it difficult to take in a deep breath or to expand the ribcage area. The void effect does not cause panic initially. The sufferer describes a feeling of numbness, a space or a void or they may feel 'dead within'.  The sensation of deep loss may cause a depressive state of mind. Internal dialogue is different in the void effect. It mostly centres on 'I should'.  

Hyperventilation on the other hand causes the sufferer to over breathe and therefore to panic. The mind is in a state of anxiety and there is a tendency to rush and speak quickly. 'I must/ I've got to' is more prevalent here.

In medical terminology, respiratory acidosis, respiratory alkalosis, metabolic acidosis and metabolic alkalosis are the four major categories of respiratory disorders which affect the acid-base. For further reading please see pages 174-178 of Michael G Levitzky's Pulmonary Physiology.[5] On page 176, he lists a number of illnesses caused by respiratory alkalosis which confirm my own observations. The chemistry of acids, bases and buffers is well described in Chapter 8 of Levitzky's Pulmonary Physiology book. There is a useful acid-base tutorial by Professor Alan W Grogono, a consultant anaesthetist, online..

Are there Different Stages of the Void Effect?
There are different stages to the void effect due to changes in emotions. In particular this can be observed during the grief process. The initial shock and disbelief stage, followed by the anger and guilt stage. There may also be fear of the symptoms at this stage causing panic attacks. Finally, acceptance of the death. However, the feelings of loss can remain long term. C. Murray-Parkes, who is an expert on bereavement, has written many books on the subject.[6]

First Stage
The void effect is the chronic stress, as this is the stage where the client has switched off from life. The individual may feel numb or dead within, or the condition can be described as "no feelings at all", whereas hyperventilation shows that the individual is beginning to come back to life. In my opinion, the void effect is the most dangerous stage, as I believe that the immune system is suppressed (to be proven). The individual also describes being on 'automatic pilot' and may be in a deep depression. The mind is sensed as being in a 'tunnel'. This is because the eye muscles contract, causing peripheral vision to be limited. It is rather like looking through binoculars the wrong way round. Objects and people seem smaller and further away than normal. Pupils may also be dilated. Some individuals may not go into the first stage. They may go straight into the second stage.

Second Stage
There is also an acute stage where the individual is suffering from the void effect, as described above, and producing acid. It is caused by the second stage of the grief process. The individual begins a self-punishment and self-destructive process, due to feelings of guilt or anger, both with others and self. This self destruction process changes the acid-base balance, which can be contributory factors to major illnesses such as arthritic conditions, strokes, cancer and heart attacks. The acid seems to act as a precursor to these illnesses. I believe that the production of acid would change the immune system to one of an inflammatory process. Dr David Beales, a respiratory physiologist, writes: "For the immune system there is a shift in the TH1 TH1 balance which changes to one of a dominant inflammatory nature."

As the void effect can cause changes to the acid-base balance, it is important to know what changes occur in the immune system when the void is present. In my view the void needs to be used as the base line for statistical analysis, as this is where the onset of illness seems to begin. Due to changes in emotions, adrenaline and acid need to be used as variables. This procedure should also be used when researching new drugs, as currently the acid-base balance is not being taken into consideration. This leads to many side effects. When the acid-base balance is disturbed, it causes the body and jaw to feel rigid. The vision is affected, and the individual becomes withdrawn and introspective.

Third Stage
This is the hyperventilation stage. Feelings of panic occur at this stage due to a fear of the symptoms themselves. The individual feels out of control. The mind is still in the 'tunnel' (depersonalized) and vision is still blurred. However, the person may begin to come out of shock when involved in an activity or if talking to someone who holds their attention. There may be an over production of adrenaline. This is sensed as a churning over feeling in the solar plexus area. Adrenaline activates the immune system, therefore this becomes a normal stress response and less dangerous to health.

How is the Void Effect Caused?
It is caused by the reaction to a trauma or loss. This can include: bereavement, pre-bereavement, divorce, separation, relationship break ups, children leaving home, redundancy, moving house, abuse, accidents, reactions to some drugs, reactions to operations or bad news etc. The source for major life events can be found in The Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11: 213-218. 1967. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale by Thomas H.Holmes and Richard H.Rahe.[7]

It is important to appreciate that major life events do not always cause the void effect and ensuing symptoms. One cannot say that all bereavements cause the void effect. This point is important for researchers. It is the individual's reaction that causes the void effect. Everyone reacts differently to a trauma. Some people may not have had a good relationship with the deceased individual and the loss therefore may not affect them. To others, the death might be a happy release and a great relief, especially if the illness has been a long and difficult one. Medics, police, fire officers and armed forces, funeral directors etc, may be used to seeing dead bodies. This does not mean that professionals never react however. Some deaths may be particularly disturbing even for a professional.

A redundancy might mean a new opportunity for some whilst acting as a trauma to others. It is the 'inside' of the person that tells the truth.

Can the Void Effect Cause Ill Health?
Yes! It can cause suppression of immunity which can lead to many serious illnesses. (To be proven). Sometimes these illnesses don't show themselves for 12 months, by which time they are well developed and difficult to treat. I have observed cancer, heart attacks, Alzheimer's disease, arthritic illnesses, osteoporosis, CFS, viruses, eye pressure changes, and others. There may also be other contributory factors, such as reactions to some drugs or alcohol, leading to the void effect and subsequent acid production.

In addition there can be digestive problems such as IBS, food allergies and intolerances, as long term acid production and side effects from some drugs, can cause a defective enzyme. For more information contact Allergy UK.[8] A book by Dr Robert Young called The pH Miracle explains how to correctly restore the acid base balance by eating a more alkaline diet.[9]

How is the Void Effect Detected?
Detection arises from simple questioning e.g. Is the diaphragm tight? Are there two knots in the centre? Does the back of the neck feel stiff? Is there a clamp like feeling at the back of the head? Does the client have the sensation of a void or space within? Feelings of numbness or emptiness within? Feel dead within? Blurred vision? Difficulty breathing? Acid indigestion? A churning over feeling? Difficulties with memory and concentration? Does the client have a picture in the mind that won't go away?

Treatments for the Void Effect, Hyperventilation and Emotional Shock
The following therapies are just a few examples of a vast range of available treatments. Most clients benefit from several different therapies according to their needs. The root cause needs to be identified and dealt with in a manner which is acceptable to the client. Successful healing is when the void is closed, i.e. the mind returns to normal allowing normal vision, and the neck spasm is released, thus enabling the diaphragm to return to its normal position. Breathing becomes normal. Healing of the whole person does not necessarily mean that the illness is cured. It means closure of the void which will cause the individual to feel better, but some clients do find significant improvements or reduction of symptoms to their illnesses as the immune system may be restored to some degree. (To be proven.)

Hyperventilation can be treated effectively by breathing into a paper bag. This is the official medical treatment. This corrects the loss of carbon dioxide. However, it does not treat the root cause, therefore panic attacks may persist. Antacids can be given to neutralize acid.

My PRESS method shown on my DVDs gives immediate control to the sufferer. The DVDs explain symptoms and offer many therapies. My Camera therapy, demonstrated on my Bereavement DVD, has been successful for some clients. I have further developed this idea recently to treat bereaved individuals. Please read an in-depth description of Image Replacement Therapy (IRT) which has been very successful.

A dental bite plate will help to release the rigid, locked jaw condition, thus taking the pressure off the back of the head. This in turn can improve the memory as it can function again when the pressure is taken off the back of the skull. Hearing also improves as the bite plate effectively corrects the jaw line. Vision can improve as the optic nerve at the back of the head is released. However, this takes many months, especially if the root cause has not been identified and dealt with. Each time the individual recalls the trauma, the rigid jaw will return. The bite plate is not suitable for people with dentures and some individuals cannot cope with the sensation of something inside the mouth. Dentists do not automatically offer this therapy. It has to be requested by the patient. Learning how to relax and breathe correctly can help. See article by Dr David Beales 'Combating stress through breathing therapy'.[10]

Hatha Yoga and Pilates can be beneficial to release tension and to teach breathing techniques. However, if an individual is suffering from panic attacks or social phobias, it may be difficult to persuade them to join a class. Chiropractors and Osteopaths can help to release neck spasms which in turn can effectively release the diaphragm muscles. Some people cannot tolerate the treatment itself.

Cognitive therapies and counselling may help, but if the client does not use these methods, healing is not assured. Referrals can be given by a GP to a range of 'talk' therapies such as psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors etc, depending on the severity of the condition.

Most churches provide some counselling but not everyone is religious. Prayers and support from members of the church can provide a loving environment and network which can help to heal the void in some cases. Ministers are qualified to use forgiveness which helps to remove guilt feelings where necessary.

A good family support network can also help. Sometimes an individual may form a new and caring relationship which can close the void. The danger here is that the sufferer may not seek help from medical experts. As the void effect will still have been present at the beginning of the tragedy, an illness that does not initially present symptoms, can suddenly surface after a few months. Although a caring network can help, it may not necessarily bring the sufferer out of shock; a lack of expertise can mean that some symptoms may not be recognized.

The back of the neck and head can be massaged which allows the mind to come out of shock and vision to return to normal. It can help the diaphragm to return to its normal position. However, this may be temporary if the root cause has not been found.

To summarize: The void is a detectable, measurable and preventable physical and mental result of personal trauma and is a possible cause of major illness. Its recognition by health professionals is not entirely new; a wider understanding and application of techniques to counter its effects could have a major impact on health care.

1.  Ward G. Void Prevention, a theory for the explanation of the mind/body causal connection in relation to the immune system and onset of illness. Case studies and addendum. Conclusion published in 'Network' The Scientific and Medical Network Review ISSN 1362-1211 No 79: p.28. August 2002.
2.  Ward G. The Void Effect-description. An updated paper to Reference 1.
3.  Ward G. Image Replacement Therapy, a description.
4.  Ward G. Self help guide DVDs on Bereavement and Panic Attacks.
5.  Levitzky, Michael G. Pulmonary Physiology-5th edition. Mcgraw-Hill USA ISBN: 0-07-134543-4 1999.
6.  Parkes CM. Bereavement - Studies of Grief in Adult Life, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1975.
7.  Holmes TH and Rahe, RH. The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, 213-218. 1967.
8.  Allergy UK at
9.  Young, Robert O. and Young, S.R. The pH miracle-Piatkus-USA. ISBN: 978-0-7499-3981-6. 2009.
10.   Beales D and Nunn J. Mindfulness and the Breath. Positive Health PH Online Issue 183 June 2011. Further details can be found at and  


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About Gill Ward

Gill Ward qualified as a stress counsellor in 1990. She works freelance in the Sutton Coldfield area. She is a former member of the Psychoneuroimmunologist Brain Immune Network Group (BING) and the Scientific and Medical Network Group.

Gill was invited to be on the consultation lists of the Food Standards Agency after alerting the authorities to the fact that excessive fibre intake can cause health problems. She has written her own Fibre Balanced Diet after guidance from Lyndel Costain, a leading consultant dietician and Gill Fine, a former Company nutritionist for Sainsbury's.

Gill formed her own business Stress Focus and Prevention in 2003 after making two DVDs:  Bereavement- A self help guide from Gill Ward Stress Counsellor; and  Don't Panic! Your self help guide to stress management. She has developed a prevention technique for the Void Effect which is demonstrated on the DVDs. In addition, she has developed a coping technique to control panic attacks which is shown on both of her DVDs.

Image Replacement Therapy (IRT) is a new technique for those suffering from bereavement or other traumas. A detailed copy of IRT is available for those who may be interested. Gill also has a new cognitive technique which may be of interest to appropriate counsellors. For further information please contact Gill via

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