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What is post-traumatic growth?

The theory suggests that people can experience positive personal growth following adversity and psychological challenges

Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) is a theory that suggests people can experience positive personal growth following adversity and psychological challenges.

Psychologist Dr. Richard Tedeschi, who originally posited the theory, states that “people develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have, and a better understanding of how to live life”.

Ways to identify and understand PTG

Research has focused on ways to identify and understand PTG and people’s experiences. The main positive responses can fall into five categories:

  1. Appreciation of life
  2. Relationships with others
  3. New possibilities in life
  4. Personal strength
  5. Spiritual change

In thinking about PTG and the kinds of responses or changes people can experience, it is natural to consider what factors or conditions allow for this growth. The short answer is that there are lots of factors that are still being investigated. Some of the key ones include:

  • Practical factors — the circumstances, types of adversitym and time since adversity
  • Personal factors — openness to experience, extraversionm and realistic optimism

Research has also suggested that gender, age, and genetics can play a role, although how exactly remains unclear. It is also suggested that half to two-thirds of people experiencing adversity and psychological challenges can show signs of PTG.

Supporting PTG

PTG can reportedly be encouraged by making people aware that it can be a possibility for them, and that it is a fairly normal process following a trauma. However, it is important not to focus on growth when people may still be processing pain and suffering, effectively invalidating these feelings.

The early signs of positive reactions should come from individuals themselves.

Other ways to support PTG could come from exploring and reflecting on the five categories of positive reactions listed above. This may include having space to reflect on our values, what gives us meaning, and what interests us.

This is one way to think about people’s lives and experiences more broadly, rather than focusing on ‘getting by’.

© Maudsley Learning © Tavistock & Portman NHS FT
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