Post-Traumatic Growth


Abbreviations and acronyms are everywhere but this one has become so widely used in recent years that it needs no introduction.

Okay it stands for post-traumatic stress disorder and it is forever in the news.

We normally associate a whole bunch of negative emotions and unpleasant psychological reactions when we talk about anything post-traumatic but there are also positive emotions and personal developments associated with trauma that seldom makes the news.

Post-traumatic growth is the flip-side of PTSD.

This is a phenomenon whereby people do not experience mental health disorders as a result of being exposed to trauma – quite the opposite – their experience is positively transformative.

Dr. Richard Tedeschi and Dr. Lawrence Calhoun have researched post-traumatic growth (PTG) and found people who have endured terrible events may develop a new appreciation of life, newfound personal strength, see an improvement in their relationships, see new possibilities in life and have a richer existential and spiritual life.

As Tedeschi notes,

Post-traumatic growth describes the experience of individuals whose development, at least in some areas, has surpassed what was present before the struggle with crises occurred.

Interestingly, they found that reports of growth experiences in the aftermath of traumatic events far outnumber reports of psychiatric disorders.

Tedeschi comments that “the frightening and confusing aftermath of trauma, where fundamental assumptions are severely challenged, can be fertile ground for unexpected outcomes that can be observed in survivors: posttraumatic growth.”

Is it possible to have PTSD and PTG?

The evidence would say that continuing personal distress and growth often do coexist. Certainly in my own seismic experiences of having had two separate advanced cancers, you are knocked for six but you also appreciate life for what it is – a life. Managing the terror of mortality is a huge pressure.

So, we come back to the old adage of “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” and for many that is the case. If we focus too much on PTSD and not on cognitive rebuilding then we could talk ourselves into anxiety instead of being stronger.

As Tedeschi and Calhoun note, it isn’t the trauma the trauma that is responsible for growth but what happens afterwards.

What has all this got to do with schools?

Stop for a moment and think about how many pupils you have taught and are currently teaching that have experienced trauma. Our input is valuable and we can share with them insights into growth so that they don’t get locked in a PTSD narrative.

Take a look at their book here:

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