I bet all of you have heard of Post-traumatic stress, but I wonder how many of you know about Post-traumatic growth. We so often think of the downside of trauma—depression, hypervigilance, anxiety and flashbacks—but it turns out that there’s an upside to it as well. The term, post-traumatic growth, was first used by Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D. in 1995 at the University of North Carolina to describe the positive changes that they saw in patients who had been affected by and were struggling with trauma.
If you are someone who’s been impacted by trauma, you might find it hard to believe that there’s anything positive about it, but research tells us that there is. "People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life," says Tedeschi. Tanako Katu, Ph.D. at Oakland University explains that, “PTG…refers to what can happen when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs, endures psychological struggle (even a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder), and then ultimately finds a sense of personal growth. It's a process that "takes a lot of time, energy and struggle.”
According to the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) which uses self-report scales, people may change positively in these areas: appreciation of life, relationship with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength and spiritual change. Does everyone experience growth? Tedeschi says, "It all depends on the trauma, the circumstances, the timing of the measurement…[and] on how you define growth using the PTGI, looking at total score, means, factors or individual items," and he estimates that about one-half to two-thirds of people show PTG.
Key traits that facilitate PTG are extraversion and openness to experience. The former makes people more likely to connect with others (and I would add, perhaps, to seek help from them), while the latter, lacking rigid belief systems, makes them more willing to look at viewpoints that are different than their own. I can validate from my clinical experience that clients who are connected to others do much better recovering from trauma than those who remain isolated and stuck in their traumatic suffering. It’s also been my experience that clients who are willing to shift beliefs and see things from another perspective can heal and often create better lives for themselves. (“Growth after trauma” by Lorna Collier, 11/2016, vol. 47, no. 10, accessed 6/5/17, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma.aspx