Post-Traumatic Growth: Finding New Light after Trauma

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

– Helen Keller

What is Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)?

What would you say if I told you that going through a traumatic experience can actually have a positive impact on you? Or if I said our current understanding of trauma is only part of the story? Would you be ready to rethink your perspective?

The concept of Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a psychological theory developed by Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD in the mid-1990s to describe the positive transformation people often experience following a traumatic event. Though it is well-established that trauma often brings about distress and negative reactions, such as depression, flashbacks, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), recent research has taken a slightly different approach. Recent literature is more focused on the ways in which trauma can actually be beneficial. Sometimes referred to as “benefit finding” or “stress-related growth,” PTG has been documented following a wide array of traumatic experiences, including: illness, bereavement, sexual assault, military combat, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks.

How does PTG differ from resilience?

While you may not have heard about PTG, resilience is a word we often hear associated with recovery after trauma. So, how are they different? In an article published by the American Psychological Association, Professor Kanako Taku, PhD explains that resilience and PTG are often confused because becoming more resilient post-trauma can be an example of PTG. He goes on to note that resilience specifically refers to “the personal attribute or ability to bounce back.” On the other hand, he describes PTG as “what can happen when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs, endures psychological struggle… and then ultimately finds a sense of personal growth.”

How do we measure it?

Following trauma, a range of self-report inventories may be utilized to measure growth. One of the more popular scales, developed in 1996 by Tedeschi and Calhoun, is the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI). In the process of being newly-revised, the existing 21-item inventory measures responses in five main areas:

  • Appreciation of Life
  • Relating to Others
  • New Possibilities
  • Personal Strength
  • Spiritual Change

What does PTG look like?

As PTG is measured across numerous studies, researchers inevitably encounter countless unique benefit reports. Incredibly, the benefits across the literature consistently fall into three central categories determined by underlying thematic elements:

  1. Emotional Growth – finding hidden strengths and abilities post-trauma
  2. Relational Growth – improving and focusing on familial and close relationships that foster connection and create a supportive social structure
  3. Positive Perspective Change – altering priorities and philosophies; developing a more beneficial perspective and approach to life

Not everyone who survives trauma experiences Post-Traumatic Growth. Yet, the possibility is well-documented and under further investigation. As researchers continue to examine how going through trauma may be beneficial, it is important to remember that no two people experience trauma the same way. In addition, as Dr. Kanako Taku notes, PTG is a process that “takes a lot of time, energy and struggle.” Avoid attaching expectations to your (or your loved one’s) journey after a traumatic experience. Processing trauma can be extremely difficult, but we are here to help.

At The Center for Anxiety and Behavior Management, we have therapists who specialize in helping those overcome PTSD and other trauma symptoms. Please call us (908) 914-2624 or email us to schedule an appointment and begin your healing journey.


By:  Michaela Patoilo

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