Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is not the opposite of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD), but rather a positive psychological change born out of a stressful or traumatic circumstance in a person’s life. Survivors are not only able to manage the trauma, they actually thrive because of it.
In the last several decades, science has begun to redefine health as the presence of wellbeing and not just the absence of disease. Though identifying mental and physical illness is important for treatment, diagnosing superior health can be equally as beneficial for researchers and patients.
Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, coined the term post-traumatic growth in the ’90s after noting that nearly 90 percent of survivors report at least one positive change as a result of trauma.
For instance, a great appreciation of life is a symptom, or positive side effect of PTG.
Many people who have suffered significant trauma don’t return to the people they once were. In fact, some of them lead healthier lives for having dealt with emotional challenges.
Post-traumatic growth can occur in anyone who has suffered from traumatic experiences.
Who Experiences Post-Traumatic Growth?
The list of people who experiences post-traumatic growth is long and can happen to anyone including:
- Soldiers who’ve fought in combat
- Parents grieving from the loss of a child
- Those recovering from substance abuse and addiction
- Survivors of sexual abuse and assault
- Victims of childhood emotional and abuse and neglect
- Those who have sustained debilitating physical injury from car accidents
Coping with intensely negative circumstances naturally causes a greater level of psychological stress. This can develop into anxiety and depression for sufferers, and many attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) reports that 1 out of 3 vets receiving treatment for drug or alcohol dependence also suffers from PTSD.
With PTG, progress does not come out of the trauma itself, but rather the struggle to cope and deal with the new reality of life after a stressful event. Research has shown that more victims experience growth than develop psychiatric disorders.
Survivors of a traumatic event who were able to turn things around discovered the following benefits of post-traumatic growth:
- A greater appreciation for life
- New priorities in life
- An improvement or renewed relationships with family and friends
- Increased personal strength
- More rewarding career path
- Spiritual growth
It is not uncommon for people who have suffered from trauma to go through a period of obsessing about or wallowing in the pain of their experience. Ignoring or avoiding thoughts about the emotional fallout of a tragedy can be equally as harmful to long-term growth.
Psychologist Dr. David Feldman says, “Trauma survivors who experience PTG acknowledge their own sadness, suffering, anger and grief, and are realistic about what happened to them,” adding that they then ask the question, “How can I build the best future possible?”
Seeking help for the depression, anxiety or addiction issues that PTSD can cause gives victims the best chance for post-traumatic growth. Therapy and treatment can offer tools for coping with and moving through painful periods that life throws at everyone.
The goal of Post-Traumatic Growth is not only to heal, but also to thrive.