Traumatic events haunt some people for their entire lives. Survivors who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may relive the trauma through flashbacks and dreams; they may struggle with their relationships and in their jobs; they may numb their emotions through alcohol and drugs; they may lose their sense of identity and place in the world. But not all survivors with PTSD will flounder and suffer for their entire lives. In fact, some of them will flourish, growing in ways they never would have anticipated prior to their traumas. When survivors enact profound positive changes in their lives as a result of trauma, they are experiencing what is known as posttraumatic growth.
Although posttraumatic growth has likely been around for as long as trauma itself, psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, developed a theory of this phenomena in the 1990s. They distinguish it from resiliency, which is the ability to bounce back after experiencing trauma. Rather, post-traumatic growth is a long-term process that occurs in people who struggle to integrate the trauma they have experienced. Mental health professionals use an assessment tool known as the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) to measure positive changes to survivors’ lives in the following areas: relationships with others, feelings of new possibilities, appreciation of life, personal strength, and spiritual change. While some factors that support posttraumatic growth are beyond our control – for example, research has shown that women are more likely to experience growth than men – we may be able to access other resources that encourage growth, such as mental health counseling, supportive relationships and community groups.
Of course, no matter the potential positive long-term outcomes, trauma is not something we would wish on ourselves or our loved ones. But posttraumatic growth offers us a way to think about healing – and opens the possibility that we can not only survive, but thrive, after trauma. Survivors who reclaim their lives from trauma not only improve their personal outcomes – they also benefit society as they gain the strength and confidence to maintain stable employment, model healthy life choices, and reduce their risk of certain stress-related health issues.
While trauma survivors must be willing to engage with the possibility of positive change in order to begin healing, they should not bear the burden of navigating barriers to help. For example, after years of exploitation, survivors of human trafficking may be penniless and believe that a healing modality such as psychotherapy is beyond their reach. Our attorneys use the civil justice system to help trauma survivors recover the resources they need to heal – and hopefully, to thrive. If you would like to learn more, please contact us today for a free consultation.
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