Assisting individuals to reduce and overcome the symptoms of trauma, particularly the condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is important work as this and other stress related conditions cause much suffering and reduce a person’s quality of life. Suffering and distress are inevitable after trauma or major life crises. What is also commonly found is that people can grow and change after overcoming these experiences; 40-70% reporting that they have actually improved compared to their ‘old selves.’ Until recently research or clinical focus has been directed at the suffering rather than the growth that can occur after a traumatic experience.
Post-traumatic growth refers to what happens with people that thrive rather than survive or recover. Surviving is not regaining previous levels of functioning whereas recovery is. Thriving on the other hand is not just going back to being the same person as before but flourishing and growing as a person. Some of the ways in which they demonstrate this are- individuals develop a greater appreciation for life; deepen spiritual beliefs; feel stronger and more effective; grow closer to others; or pursue unexpected/ new paths. Many report wanting to determine how they can make the most of their life and find meaning as well as focussing on living more in the moment
Researchers in the area are still examining what are the characteristics of those that will bounce back or thrive, but so far they have found that a tendency to see crises as challenges rather than problems; optimism as opposed to pessimism; and a preference for socializing instead of withdrawing are possible factors. There are ways of dealing with the impact of trauma and to help a person grow and experience post-traumatic growth. Helping someone to reflect on the meaning of the experience will assist to lead to growth and this can begin to occur once the painful emotions such as loss and anger have been processed.
The term ‘expert companion’ has been termed to describe a person that can assist the person to grow by being there as a good listener without judgement or the offer of a ‘magic wand’, as well as assisting them to see areas for growth and development. Encouraging them to see benefits from the experience not just the negatives is also helpful but certainly not easy.
The knowledge that post-traumatic growth occurs can bring hope to survivors of trauma, bereavement, and other major life crises, especially if they have support to process their suffering. They can then come through the other side of the process a different person but with beneficial change rather than continued extreme levels of distress and difficulty coping.
Work by Lawrence G. Calhoun and Richard G. Tedeschi as cited in various online articles.
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