As a trauma-informed practice that utilizes nonverbal therapies, many individuals who have experienced trauma come to us for care. The diagnosis of PTSD has found its way into mainstream culture in recent years, as a result of our social, political, and global climate.
While news on our phones alert us of distressing events and possibilities, we find it important to highlight how healing can be felt as tangibly as the pain trauma also introduced.
Viva clinician Carlee Myers, who works with survivors of trauma, domestic and sexual violence, and complex childhood trauma sat down to share ways she has seen post-traumatic growth develop in her work with clients.
What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?
Post-traumatic growth, or PTG is an “experience of positive change that occurs as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life crises.” It involves a focus on “the positive outcomes that develop after traumatic events, rather than on symptoms,” Carlee noted.
It is important to note that PTG does not mean the absence of post-traumatic stress. In fact, research suggests that stress and growth in response to trauma likely interact with one another. The stress response to trauma may be what also fuels some individuals towards growth.
“A body responding with stress or heightened levels of alertness to trauma is normal,” Myers shared. “This is how the body tries to prevent something from happening again, to survive, and protect us.”
Integrating Stress and Growth
Having a stress response to trauma is a physiologically natural response. Still many individuals find that they do not want to stay in a heightened state of fight-or-flight or live with symptoms brought on by trauma.
“The rise of unpleasant emotional experiences can lead to self reflection and determination to overcome the problems experienced,” a study noted. “The emotional experience one has can affect one’s motivation to get out and grow from the condition.”
Embodying post traumatic growth often involves therapy and goal-setting within a therapeutic environment targeted towards healing. Still, understanding its components can help to foster elements of it in your own life.
Components of PTG
Appreciation, relationships, new possibilities and opportunities, personal strength, and spiritual enhancement are the components of PTG, as measured by Tedeschi and Calhoun’s 21-item scale.
In clinical work, we do not bluntly introduce these abstract concepts to clients. However, we can pay attention to how they discuss their trauma, if they display components of PTG, and encourage these growth responses.
Personal strength could present through “enhanced self-perception and self-acceptance.” Some survivors of trauma are drawn towards spirituality in a new way or for the first time. This can lead to an altered “philosophy and meaning of life, with more resilience to future stressors.” This Positive Psychology Article goes on to share more insights into PTG, its measurements, and manifestations.
PTG and Survivors of Teenage Crises
“Post traumatic growth is especially helpful for people whose view of self and view of the world was changed by what they went through,” Carlee shared. She went on to discuss how she has witnessed PTG’s particularly profound impact in her work with teenage clients.
Worldview is not solidified for adolescents. “This creates an increased likelihood that their worldview is shaped by what they experience. If they experience trauma or crises, this has the potential to shift how they perceive the world and themselves,” Myers said.
However, with malleable minds comes increased possibility for growth and the components of PTG to become learned as well. Carlee encourages parents, caregivers, people in school systems, and those who interact with teens regularly to promote PTG “Parents and caregivers can do this through modeling strength and growth, facilitating family meaning-making.”
Growth Is Gradual
“The phenomenon of growth after trauma has been observed for about as long as humans have been suffering – which is to say, always,” shares Chowdbury.
Scientists were drawn to research PTG because of how organically it occurs for some individuals. However, growing after traumatic experiences does not mean someone has to be happy or positive all the time.
Carlee shares this note for survivors of trauma – “It is awful that something happened to you in the first place. You don’t have to find a positive purpose out of a horrible thing that happened. It is wonderful if you can or if you want to.
There may be a part of you that wants growth one day and the next does not care to put meaning to their trauma. This is okay.”
Tools exist for you to live and grow beyond experiences of trauma.
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Want to learn more about post-traumatic growth or facilitate it within a safe therapeutic environment? Contact us at email@example.com to learn more. In addition, you can find a wealth of free resources for support via the Resilient Brain Project.
Carlee Myers clinician at The Viva Center in Washington, D.C. She uses a trauma-informed approach, as well as EMDR and dialectical behavioral therapy with her clients to facilitate their healing and empowerment.
Mary Grace Comber is the Client Specialist at The Viva Center. She supports our clients and clinicians through administrative and intake processes. She also organizes our Holistic Professionals Group and social media presence.