Post traumatic growth is defined as the “experience of individuals whose development, at least in some areas has surpassed what was present before the struggle with crises occurred. The individual has not only survived, but has experienced changes that are viewed as important, and that go beyond the status quo” (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004).
Theory into practice
Is it possible to prepare people for PTG, to pave the way should tragedy or trauma strike? Yes, says Tedeschi, noting that psychologists can "allow people to understand that this may be a possibility for themselves" and is a "fairly normal process" if and when trauma occurs.
More often, though, therapists will become involved not before adversity has occurred, but afterward. In this context, they can introduce PTG concepts but need to take care doing so.
H'Sien Hayward, PhD, cautions that therapists should not "jump right into the possibility of growth," which she says can "often be construed as minimizing someone's pain and suffering and minimizing the impact of the loss."
"PTG is sometimes considered synonymous with resilience because becoming more resilient as a result of struggle with trauma can be an example of PTG—but PTG is different from resilience, says Kanako Taku, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Oakland University, who has both researched PTG and experienced it as a survivor of the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan.
"Resiliency is the personal attribute or ability to bounce back," says Taku. PTG, on the other hand, refers to what can happen when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs, endures psychological struggle (even a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder), and then ultimately finds a sense of personal growth. It's a process that "takes a lot of time, energy and struggle," Taku says.
Someone who is already resilient when trauma occurs won't experience PTG because a resilient person isn't rocked to the core by an event and doesn't have to seek a new belief system, explains Tedeschi. Less resilient people, on the other hand, may go through distress and confusion as they try to understand why this terrible thing happened to them and what it means for their world view.
To evaluate whether and to what extent someone has achieved growth after a trauma, psychologists use a variety of self-report scales. One that was developed by Tedeschi and Calhoun is the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996). It looks for positive responses in five areas:
- Appreciation of life.
- Relationships with others.
- New possibilities in life.
- Personal strength.
- Spiritual change. For full article see apa.org/monitor
What is post-traumatic growth?
Ted Talk Stacey Kramer offers a moving, personal, 3-minute parable that shows how an unwanted experience -- frightening, traumatic, costly -- can turn out to be a priceless gift.
Most of the literature concerning PTG conceptualises growth following trauma or stress as an outcome of experiencing that stressor (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). However, one issue that has arisen in the literature is whether PTG is an outcome of the stressor or a process that the victim goes through in the aftermath of a trauma that eventually leads to positive outcomes (e.g. less depression or a re-organisation of life priorities). There is very little literature that examines the difference between PTG as a process and PTG as an outcome, indeed longitudinal research that tracks a trauma victim over an extended period of time is likely to be examining PTG as both a process and an outcome, without differentiating between the two. Existing measurement tools such as the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996) do not distinguish between these two types of growth either so it is very difficult to examine the different ways that PTG may occur.