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  • Writer's pictureDena Lampert

Post-Traumatic Growth: The Positive Transformation That Can Occur After Trauma

Written by Kerri Kosloff

Post-traumatic growth is a theory developed by Dr. Richard Tedeschi and Dr. Lawrence Calhoun in the mid-1990’s, which focuses on the positive transformations that can occur for people who endure adversity. They found that these people can experience positive psychological shifts in how they relate to themselves and the world.

Generally, the research focus has been on the harmful outcomes of trauma, without also looking at the percentage of trauma survivors who report experiencing positive personal growth from their experiences. These trauma survivors are examples of more than just resilience, they are examples of hope—that healing and growth after trauma is possible.

Is post-traumatic growth innate or can it be learned?

Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to “bounce back” after experiencing a traumatic event. Resilience and post-traumatic growth are not one and the same. Post-traumatic growth is when someone struggles to bounce back after experiencing a traumatic event that calls into question their core beliefs. They experience psychological distress but ultimately find a sense of personal growth.

While an individual’s innate level of resiliency impacts their response to trauma, post-traumatic growth shows us that those who experience psychological distress after a traumatic event are still very capable of experiencing positive growth.

How is post-traumatic growth possible?

Initially, it may seem that positive growth, or any positive outcome for that matter, is not possible for people who have experienced trauma. How could something so terrible, so painful, which leads you to question your sense of self, possibly lead to anything positive? People who have experienced trauma often have nightmares, re-experience the event and fear for their personal safety. Trauma is not easy to overcome.

But with the support of a therapist who is experienced and trained in trauma-informed care, over time post-traumatic stress can become post-traumatic growth. What is needed is a structured approach that includes three things: emotional regulation strategies, relaxation techniques, and cognitive restructuring. This has proven to be an extremely effective approach in healing trauma.

What does this approach include?

The approach begins with developing a “relaxed muscle body” through exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Stress and relaxation cannot occur at the same time, and the mind cannot be calm if the body is stressed, so if you first work towards calming the physiological responses to stress, you will improve your ability to regulate your emotions. Our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings produce physiological responses which can then drive our behaviors.

The “relaxed muscle body” enhances our ability to develop and use emotional regulation strategies, which is important, because our ability to use reason and logic is limited or even inaccessible when our body is in a heightened state of stress. Through using techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, emotional regulation can be improved by evaluating, assessing, and changing negative thought patterns/associations which create both physiological and psychological distress. If we can begin to develop more positive thought patterns, our feelings, experiences, and behaviors will follow suit.

In the past, many approaches to treating trauma only focused on treating the physiological symptoms or psychological impact of trauma. Today, we know that trauma incorporates both physiological and psychological responses to events. In order to heal, you need a holistic approach focused on the mind-body connection. Only this can take you from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth.

As a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) through the International Association of Trauma Professionals, Kerri is trained and certified in this approach to treating trauma survivors. If you or a loved one you know is struggling with the impact of trauma, you do not need to suffer in silence. Reach out to Kerri for support and start healing.

1 Comment

Jun 05

Thank you for your professional career efforts and your personal, private support for Mia and your sister, Kristen's, family as Mia meets her challenge. Pete Kosloff

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