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“Post-traumatic growth” is a term coined by University of North Carolina psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. It describes the growth that many survivors discover in the process of healing from a traumatic experience.
After counseling people who had lost loved ones, were severely injured, survived cancer, were veterans, or had been prisoners, the researchers found growth in five main areas: personal strength, deeper relationships with others, new perspectives on life, appreciation of life, and increased spirituality.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has received attention because it is a "diagnosis", but post-traumatic growth is much more common. Tedeschi estimates that 90% of trauma survivors report experiencing at least one aspect of growth from their experience, but it is important to note that not everybody experiences growth and I am not implying that traumatic experiences are a good thing.
When it comes to trauma, Tedeschi rejects the word "disorder" and points out that when someone has an accident that produces many broken bones we don't say they have a broken bone disorder. We say they have an injury, and the same is true with trauma survivors; they have been physically, psychologically and often morally injured.
Here are 7 methods that trauma specialists have found particularly helpful to turn traumatic injury into growth and strength:
Start each day with slow, deep breathing and a mindfulness meditation. Meditation can literally change your brain by shrinking the amygdala, the brain's “fear center” that can become enlarged after a trauma.
2 . Openness/Receptivity
Be open to allowing the injury to fuel your growth. This is different from covering up the wound with a smiley face or suffering in silence. Growth arises from acknowledging the injury, learning to communicate openly, admit fears, and reach out for help.
Shame, self-blame, and guilt often arise inside oneself after trauma. Practices of self-compassion and loving kindness can allow survivors to connect with and appreciate all parts of themselves.
4. Finding Meaning
A crucial foundation of post-traumatic growth is reflecting on one's trauma and finding meaning in it. As Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl realized, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’”
One of the single most effective practices for healing is keeping a journal of gratitude. The army calls it “Hunt the Good Stuff”: Notice three good things every day and reflect on them with appreciation.
6. A Holistic Approach
When people use these skills in their lives, they are more steady in the face of stress, they can cope more effectively with problems and they can enjoy healthier relationships. Holistic nurses and nurse coaches support people to learn these skills and others such as energy management and effective communication for whole-person health and well-being.
7. A Team Effort
Nobody thrives alone. Growth and resilience are a team effort. Moving forward after a crisis depends not only on an individual’s resources but also on their connections with people and the quality of support they receive. The best kind of support encourages survivors to focus on their strength without glossing over their wounds.
Lees, A.B. (2019). Post-traumatic Growth: There can be positive change after adversity. Psychology Today. April 18, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-thriving/201904/posttraumatic-growth
Taylor, S. (2020). The coronavirus and post-traumatic growth. Scientific American. April 19, 2020. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/...
Tedeschi, R.,et al, (2018). Post-Traumatic Growth: Theory, Research and Applications. New York, NY: Routledge.
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