What is post-traumatic growth?
The effects of trauma can be hard to handle and at times, overwhelming. A comforting thought is that, whilst we are experiencing the negative effects of trauma, something more positive may also be taking place.
Trauma can lead us to question deeply held beliefs. We search for effective ways to heal and support. Psychology has begun to examine the potential for positive growth following trauma. Growth resulting from trauma is known as post-traumatic growth and in this post we’ll examine some of the leading post traumatic growth researchers, you’ll have the opportunity to watch videos on what post traumatic growth is and examine the benefits of learning from trauma.
Tedeschi and Calhoun on post-traumatic growth
Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are leaders in post-traumatic growth research.
In a review of literature on post-traumatic growth, Tedeschi and Calhoun found reports of growth experiences exceeded reports of psychiatric illness following trauma.
In an example of profound post-traumatic growth and perhaps one of the most recognisable post traumatic growth quotes, Viktor Frankl, psychologist and holocaust survivor, wrote,
“Everything can be taken from a man but …the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Post traumatic growth examples of people responding positively to trauma can also be seen in the creation of organisations such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and the UK wide Mothers Against Guns campaign.
How can we benefit from post-traumatic growth?
Calhoun and Tedeschi’s found that firmly held religious and philosophical beliefs are often questioned following traumatic events. Trauma prompts soul searching questions like, ‘how do I make sense of the world and what is my place in it?’ Beliefs and values are considered in greater depth. We often develop a greater understanding and appreciation of life following trauma. Existing goals are also questioned and new goals formed to fit in with the new, adjusted world view.
Psychologists have developed tools to measure post-traumatic growth, including the Stress-Related Growth Scale and Tedeschi and Calhoun’s Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory. These scales measure items such as relationship to others, new possibilities, personal strength, spiritual change, and appreciation of life.
Research using the above tools has linked post-traumatic growth with the following positive changes:
Increased perception of competence and self-reliance.
Greater acceptance of one’s vulnerability and negative emotional experiences.
Improved relationships with significant others.
More compassion and empathy for others.
Increased effort to improve relationships.
Greater appreciation of own existence.
Greater appreciation for life.
Positive changes in one’s priorities.
Increased religious/spiritual beliefs.
Finally, one important aspect of post-traumatic growth that Tedeschi and Calhoun emphasise, is that such growth exists alongside the emotions of suffering and loss rather than replacing them.
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Like to find out more? Watch Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk discussing post-traumatic growth.