Post-traumatic growth

accident_blur.jpgTrauma has been traditionally considered as intrinsically pathological. Some psychologists are now arguing that although damaging, the experience of trauma can also inspire some people to change in positive ways.

The concept has been named ‘post-traumatic growth’ and is the subject of significant debate among contemporary researchers and clinicians.

The debate is covered in a recent article for Psychology Today where proponents of both sides of the argument make their case.

The article relates the experience of trauma to activities such as ultra-marathon running where competitors may run hundreds of miles and push themselves to physical and psychological exhaustion in an attempt to achieve new goals.

A slightly more weighty article on the topic appeared in a 2004 article in the Psychiatric Times where psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun aimed to explain how such personal development could occur after extreme experiences.

One thing which is still not clear, is how many people experience ‘post-traumatic growth’ and whether it is more than optimistic thinking after the event, as research into the phenomenon is still relatively thin on the ground.

Link to Psychology Today article “The Hidden Side of Happiness”.
Link to Psychiatric Times article “Posttraumatic Growth: A New Perspective on Psychotraumatology”.

5 Comments

  1. Posted March 10, 2006 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Just a personal anecdote that illustrates both:
    When my wife of 30 years and I divorced, I was a basket case for over two years. I sank into a deep depression so bad I lost my job, my health deteriorated, and I wanted to die. I definitely saw the post-traumatic stress side of the coin at that time.
    Then I lost my father, mother, mother-in-law, and ex-wife (who remained my good friend) all in a six-month period. Surprisingly, rather than sinking deeper into depression, I recovered. I can honestly say I’m stronger now than I have ever been. So I’ve definitely experienced post-traumatic growth, too.
    What makes the difference? I really don’t have a clue.

  2. Posted March 10, 2006 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I *just* finished EMDR as a treatment for PTSD a month ago, and not only has a huge weight been lifted off me, I’ve changed in many other ways as well. I’m more optimistic and less depressed about other things in general. I can’t believe how great it is!

  3. Posted March 11, 2006 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    This makes a lot of sense; I’m glad they’re focusing on it.

  4. University-researcher
    Posted May 25, 2006 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    I am a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, UK, studying Post Traumatic Growth (PTG)following Road Traffic Collisions (‘RTC’ is a UK term. ‘Motor Vehicle Accident’ is the USA equivalent). I am also an EMDR Consultant.
    To answer airship1951’s question: What makes the difference (between PTSD and PTG)?
    There is considerable debate as to exactly what is the diffrence so it isn’t just you that’s confused!
    Generally the difference between PTSD and PTG is that they are terms to describe a prescribed ‘set’ of negative symptoms (PTSD) as laid out in a manual called DSM-IV-TR published by the American Psychiatric Association. PTG is the ‘semi-official’ term coined in 1995 by Tedeschi & Calhoun to describe a range of positive symptoms. Both PTSD and PTG are ill-defined concepts and much debate and research ensues trying to tighten criteria up.
    I suspect however, that airship1951 was actually asking what made the difference in his case. This is not nearly so easy to answer especially given that the posting doesn’t give a great deal of information to decide. However, there is one clue: “I can honestly say I’m stronger now than I have ever been.” This suggests more than just the ‘recovery’ referred to in the previous sentence in the posting, and might indicate an inherent quality that was activated, probably ‘resilience’ and a recognition of a ‘new role’ in life.
    I hope this sheds light on things somewhat.
    As for the posting by Kat2 on EMDR, there are two PTG ‘clues’ that I can spot: the ‘optimism’ is an easy one to spot. Less obvious is the sentence “I can’t believe how great it is!” which suggests that her beliefs about trauma have been radically and positively, altered. There is a lot that could be added here, but this posting is already very long.
    Please feel free to email me – especially if you have experienced PTG following a RTC or MVA.
    Kind regards to all
    David

  5. greenchinioshalter
    Posted June 26, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve gone through things i’d rather not talk about at all. But through the years i have recovered and is living life so free from baggage, i feel the traumatic experiences were in actually a blessing in the end. I think Post Traumatic Growth is all real after reading about it because i entirely relate to it.


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