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Post-traumatic Growth (PTG): A Transformation Following Trauma

Above shot of hands of young man with post traumatic syndrome holding folder

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a profound psychological concept that has been the subject of extensive research and discussion in the field of psychology. This theory, developed by esteemed psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, posits that individuals can experience significant positive growth following periods of intense adversity and psychological struggle.

Understanding the Concept of PTG

PTG is not merely about bouncing back to a previous state of normality after experiencing trauma. Instead, it is about transformation and growth that propels individuals to a higher level of functioning and understanding of life, self, and others. This growth is often characterised by increased appreciation of life, recognition of new possibilities, improved personal strength, enhanced interpersonal relationships, and spiritual development.

The Five Domains of PTG

PTG is typically manifested in five key domains:

  1. Appreciation of Life: Individuals may develop a renewed sense of gratitude for their existence. They may value their life and the lives of others more deeply and express more appreciation for small joys and pleasures.
  2. Relationships with Others: Trauma survivors often report feeling a greater sense of compassion and empathy for others who are suffering. They may become more altruistic and nurturing in their relationships.
  3. New Possibilities: Post-trauma, individuals may re-evaluate their priorities and goals, opening up new pathways that were previously unconsidered or unattainable.
  4. Personal Strength: Survivors often discover inner strength and resilience they were previously unaware of. This newfound strength can foster a powerful sense of self-confidence.
  5. Spiritual Change: Some individuals experience a deepening of their spiritual beliefs or a radical change in their belief system, which can provide a framework for making sense of their trauma.

The Process of PTG

PTG is not an immediate outcome of trauma. It is a process that unfolds over time, often through a period of painful self-reflection and rumination. The process of PTG often involves a struggle with the new reality and a quest to rebuild one’s life narrative to incorporate the traumatic event.

The Role of Support Systems in PTG

Support systems play a crucial role in facilitating PTG. Therapeutic interventions, peer support groups, and strong interpersonal relationships can provide the necessary environment for growth to occur. These support systems can help individuals process their experiences, validate their emotions, and guide them toward finding meaning and purpose in their trauma.

The Potential of PTG

The concept of PTG offers a beacon of hope for those who have experienced trauma. It provides a positive and optimistic perspective on trauma, emphasising the potential for growth and transformation rather than focusing solely on the negative impacts. However, it is essential to remember that PTG does not negate the pain and suffering caused by trauma. It is not about denying or sanitising the trauma but about recognising and harnessing the potential for significant personal growth that can emerge in its aftermath.

The Intersection of PTG and Resilience

While PTG and resilience might seem similar, they are distinct concepts. Resilience refers to the ability to bounce back from adversity and maintain normal functioning. On the other hand, PTG involves a transformation that leads to a higher level of functioning. However, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Resilience can serve as a foundation for PTG, providing the necessary strength and stability for individuals to navigate through the process of growth.

The Role of Cognitive Processing in PTG

Cognitive processing plays a crucial role in facilitating PTG. It involves the way individuals perceive and make sense of their traumatic experiences. Cognitive processing can help individuals find meaning in their trauma, re-evaluate their belief systems, and develop new perspectives on life. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective in promoting cognitive processing, helping individuals to challenge and change maladaptive thought patterns and behaviours.

The Importance of Self-Disclosure in PTG

Self-disclosure, or expressing one’s thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event, can be a powerful catalyst for PTG. It can help individuals process their emotions, reduce feelings of isolation, and gain social support. Self-disclosure can take many forms, including talking to friends or family, writing in a journal, or participating in therapy or support groups.

The Role of Mindfulness in PTG

Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present and engaged in the current moment, can also contribute to PTG. It can help individuals accept their experiences, rather than avoiding or suppressing them. Mindfulness can foster a non-judgmental awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings, promoting self-compassion and acceptance. This can facilitate cognitive processing and emotional regulation, key components of PTG.

The Potential Risks and Criticisms of PTG

While PTG offers a positive perspective on trauma, it is not without its potential risks and criticisms. Some individuals may feel pressure to find positive aspects in their trauma, which can lead to feelings of guilt or failure if they are unable to do so. It is essential to remember that not everyone who experiences trauma will experience PTG, and that’s okay. Each individual’s response to trauma is unique and valid.

Furthermore, the concept of PTG should not be used to minimise or dismiss the pain and suffering caused by trauma. Trauma can have devastating and long-lasting impacts, which should not be overlooked in pursuing growth.

Conclusion: The Transformative Power of PTG

In conclusion, PTG is a powerful concept highlighting the potential for growth and transformation in the aftermath of trauma. It provides a hopeful and optimistic perspective, emphasising the strength and resilience of the human spirit. However, it is essential to approach PTG with sensitivity and understanding, recognising the complexity and individuality of each person’s experience with trauma.

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Redenham Park
Near Andover
Hampshire
SP11 9AQ
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I needed focus I needed something to fill my time, well maybe not fill my time but something to focus on like a target, a needed to get back my drive.

I started to help VIA ‘Veterans In Action’ and found something that I could do, use the old skills that I learnt in the army and more since I left which I did not register I had.

I had been missing that motivation to do something that I wanted to do and gain that level of self-gratification and achievement.

Everybody has a skill set, but it’s the motivation to use it we can lose, VIA have various projects on the go all the time, hopefully I have found my niche to help them and myself to gain personal gratification by being  a member of a team again and a job well done.

After discussions I realised that it’s this which advances my mental well-being and my ongoing fight against depression and the feeling of worthlessness.

I have woken up, helping hand in hand with fellow soldiers suffering from labelled disorders finding strength from weakness, realising what helps them generally does helps me, the recognition has been an awakening.”

Ian ‘Chalky’ White former 17th/21st Lancers and B Sqn 22 SAS

Veterans In Action have been filming our expeditions for many years for our YouTube Channel, Veterans Expeditions Overland, and through this experience of not only running the expeditions but also capturing footage that enables veterans who have taken part in a place of reference to recapture how they felt by taking part.

The Veterans In Focus project enables veterans to learn new skills and record not only the expeditions we run but also the day-to-day work on all projects connecting them all together so everyone feels involved in all aspects of the work we do.

VIA take a long-term approach to helping veterans who suffer to enable them to grow within a project working alongside their peers. All this can be achieved within this project which can be ongoing and would allow veterans to learn new skills or to pass on skills learned during their time in the services

Some of the outcomes of the project are a sense of purpose, regaining confidence and working in an environment alongside other veterans where they can instantly feel relaxed, chilled-out, secure, and safe.

Veterans can work at their own pace, stop thinking negatively, concentrate, learn new skills, be part of building something, and most importantly where problems are understood this will positively impact mood and stress levels.

For those involved in the project, they can also get involved on an expedition HERE

I became involved with VIA in 2010 after my life took a turn for the worse and was invited along to do some fundraising with them.  This helped me no end and in time my life got back on track.  I completed a Union Flag Walk with them from Cape Wrath to Land’s End which again helped as walking and talking with other veterans with similar stories was a great help in understanding how I was feeling.  I gained control of my life again.

In 2019, I took part in an overland expedition travelling through the Spanish Pyrenees and whilst away my life took a turn for the worse again due to family problems back in the UK.  On my return I had to start again and rebuild and focus on the future and with the help of Veterans In Action I got back on track and took control.

I now own and run my own courier business.

Mark Colman former Royal Engineers

To date, we have travelled 25,000 miles travelling through 30 different countries and some of them several times both on overland expeditions for humanitarian aid through the pandemic and more recently supplying medical humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

It is important to note that to take part in one of our overland expeditions we insist that veterans get involved in the BUILD IT part of the project. The reason for this is part of the Post Traumatic Growth process which is our method for helping veterans so that veterans can grow within a team of their peers, learning new skills and relearning old skill sets that may have been forgotten after service.

Leading up to an expedition involves expedition training which will include off-road driving, navigation, camp setups, camp cooking and daily maintenance, something most veterans will understand from their time in the services.

It would be unfair for any individual to turn up on the day of an expedition who hadn’t previously been involved as everyone else would have been working together over a long period of time so due to the very nature of the mental health problems of those we take out on expedition turning up on day 1 for any individual could become very difficult to find where they fit in no matter how welcoming everyone was.

It is the involvement long-term on building the vehicles that enable veterans to grow that gets them to a place where they fully enjoy all aspects of the expedition experience starting from the minute that an overland expedition sets off.