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Post-traumatic growth: is it real?

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

One of life's great pleasures is browsing in a library or bookshop. And for me, browsing leads to reading books or articles I never thought I would. That's how I came across the idea of post-traumatic growth, in two books I browsed and took out of Hutt City Council libraries (shout out to them!) in the past two weeks.

I think it's also a subject that's pertinent as we enter another phase of coping with Covid.

We know about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) but can the reverse happen? Can we grow as a result of trauma? (PTG: Post-Traumatic Growth)

Leigh Sales, An Ordinary Day, presents evidence that between 30 - 80% of people experience PTG after a trauma. She quotes research by Calhoun and Tedschi, The Foundations of Posttraumatic Growth: An Expanded Framework.

They argue that five factors lead to personal transformation post trauma:

  1. Increased inner strength.

  2. An openness to new possibilities.

  3. Closer relationships.

  4. An enhanced appreciation of life.

  5. A stronger sense of spirituality.

I think there's some valuable clues here.

I always look in the new books section as part of my browsing ritual and came across The Sweet Spot, Suffering, Pleasure and the Key to a Good Life by Professor of Psychology, Paul Bloom, Universities of Toronto and Yale. Sounds eminent. And he's got a more sceptical take on PTG as well.

"It would be foolish to doubt that, sometimes, trauma can bring out positive personal transformation." But the positive effects of PTG can happen after a positive event or after no event at all. "And they probably have nothing to do with events themselves."

Where does that leave us?

Personally, I'm more with Sales. Surely we need some sort of event or experience to trigger some sort of personal growth? And I'll be keeping a close eye on the five points above and referring to them in our work as we plunge into the third year of COVID.

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