Healing PTSD Through Post-Traumatic Growth

By Kathryn Millán, LPC/MHSP

What if a traumatic experience could actually benefit your life somehow?

In the early 1990s, researchers Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, set out to find new ways people could recover from emotional trauma. Tedeschi and Calhoun focused on people who had survived life-threatening incidents, such as auto accidents, war and battle experiences, assault or natural disasters. In 1995, they coined the term “post-traumatic growth.” They found that many people can use evidence-based treatment to overcome trauma and build self-esteem and strength, even after the most distressing events.1

Post-traumatic Growth After Post-traumatic Stress

Post-traumatic growth can be viewed as an alternative outcome to post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic growth doesn’t dismiss a traumatic experience, but honors the trauma as an event that was part of life, albeit difficult and painful. Achieving a sense of peace after a devastating event takes dedication, time and a healthy support system.

Traumatic events impact the way we see the world. The human brain is hardwired to seek safety, so it only makes sense that trauma will change how the brain interacts with the world. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a widely documented, medically recognized condition. It is a mental health diagnosis that can occur in anyone who has experienced a terribly frightening, stressful and uncontrolled traumatic event. PTSD is not a sign of weakness, because it can impact anyone.

What is Post-traumatic Growth?

Man alone on mountainThe new theory of post-traumatic growth inspires hope in many people who struggle with the daily work of coping with PTSD. Many of the symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating and impact daily functioning. Symptoms such as intrusive memories or nightmares, increased anxiety and irritability, difficulty trusting others and avoidance of traumatic memories can be lessened through treatments related to the hopeful field of post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic growth is a positive change that occurs through the treatment of trauma or PTSD. It takes time to achieve this level of healing and change, but those who have experienced this growth are able to feel newfound confidence in facing challenges. These individuals can recall their trauma without experiencing crippling anxiety or flashbacks, and they are able to have hope for the future. Post-traumatic growth begins after a great deal of psychological healing takes place, usually through therapy, rehab and a targeted support network. A common thought that people who have healed from trauma and experienced growth is, “If I lived through that, I can face anything.”2

Post-traumatic growth is not a “fix-all,” by any means. People who experience post-traumatic growth still suffer, and they may still experience tough days where trauma becomes more apparent. However, they will have greater learned coping skills. People who have successfully treated their trauma will not feel perfect all the time, but they will feel reassured that difficult feelings will pass and that there is hope for the future.

How is Post-Traumatic Growth Measured?

Many clinicians associate post-traumatic growth with the concept of “healing.” Most people relate to the world differently after a trauma, and trauma makes it much harder to “bounce back” and live life normally. Many people experience a long period of confusion and distress when they try to return to everyday life, build new relationships or conceptualize the world.3

Post-traumatic growth is measured through a test known as the “Post-traumatic Growth Inventory.” This inventory observes five key thought patterns:

  1. Newfound appreciation of life
  2. Improved relationships with others or the ability to find a new support network
  3. Belief in new life possibilities
  4. Perceived personal strength
  5. Self-determined spiritual change or change in world outlook

Post-traumatic growth is not about achieving perfection. Every person heals from trauma differently, and some days in recovery are better than others. Post-traumatic growth is often a journey that lasts a lifetime.

Who is More Likely to Experience Post-Traumatic Growth?

Some people may experience post-traumatic growth more easily than others, but anyone can see positive changes with the right support and information. Studies do show that people who are more extroverted, outgoing and open to life experiences may also be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth. This may be because extroverts are more likely to build wider support systems and seek help more quickly than introverts.

Other studies show that women may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth, especially if they feel comfortable discussing their trauma symptoms with safe supporters. Older teenagers and adults are also more likely to experience healing because they are better able to understand the concept of trauma and growth than younger children.3

PTSD Recovery for Yourself or Someone You Love

People are capable of living fulfilling lives even after experiencing terrible traumas. Healing requires a strong support network, a good therapist or helper to work through the experience, and a good understanding of how trauma impacts the brain. Post-traumatic growth can be seen as the final step in healing from trauma.

No one forgets a serious trauma, but a terrible experience (or series of experiences) should not stop you from enjoying your own life. It may seem impossible to return to a normal life, but it is possible to create a new normal and a new sense of hope. If a traumatic experience has impacted your life, or if you have been trying to numb the pain through substance use, it’s time to consider a healthier future. Our recovery professionals are available seven days a week to help callers find out more about treatment, wellness and trauma recovery. All calls are completely confidential. Let us give you the gift of information, so you can make an informed decision for a brighter future.

1 Rendon, J. Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth. 2105. New York, New York. Simon & Schuster.

2 University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Posttraumatic Growth Research Group: What is PTG? Web. Accessed 9 Oct 2017.

3 Collier, L. Growth after trauma: Why are some people more resilient than others—and can it be taught? American Psychological Association Monitor. Nov 2016. Vol 47, No. 10. Web. Accessed 9 Oct 2017.