PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that we hear quite a lot about in the media, especially in relation to men and ex-military soldiers in general. And while of course, PTSD is a very real and valid condition that should be recognized and given the appropriate funding and attention that it deserves; I often wonder why we don’t hear more about PTG – Post-Traumatic Growth?
While post-traumatic stress is a common response to traumatic events within the human experience, research has shown that it’s not the only response. In recent years psychologists have discovered a phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth. This is the concept where some individuals actually experience a positive change in personality and well-being following traumatic life events, leading them to thrive and even flourish afterwards, often with a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for life.
Ex-Service Men Aren’t Only Experiencing PTSD
Post-traumatic growth is defined as positive psychological, social or spiritual growth after trauma. Research shows that it’s actually a lot more common in ex-servicemen than anyone previously thought.
Katharine M Mark and her colleagues, from King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, conducted a systematic review of multiple studies on ex-servicemen and the incidences of PTSD v’s PTG. Their findings indicated that it’s clear that PTSD is not the only outcome for servicemen who have experienced trauma, and in fact, they noted that post-traumatic growth was “moderately common”.
Because of the nature of military service, soldiers often face increased exposure to types of physical and psychological threats, which often results in a high number of ex-servicemen experiencing PTSD. But what people may not be aware of is the fact that, although the name contains the word “disorder” – PTSD is actually the body’s very natural reaction to abnormal, traumatising events.
Furthermore, not only is PTSD part of our natural response to trauma, it’s a treatable condition that can be healed with the right therapeutic approaches for each individual.
And in addition to this, the discovery of post-traumatic growth is now informing psychologists, therapists, the military and the American Psychological Association (APA) that the ultimate outcomes for servicemen who have endured trauma are not all negative; in fact, PTG indicates the possibility for profound personal growth which in many instances can lead to individuals living happier even more successful lives than before the traumatic event.
How Can Trauma and Adversity Lead to Psychological Gains?
Post traumatic growth can be confused with resilience, but the two are actually very different.
“PTG is sometimes considered synonymous with resilience because becoming more resilient as a result of the struggle with trauma can be an example of PTG—but PTG is different from resilience,” says Kanako Taku, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Oakland University, who has both researched PTG and experienced it as a survivor of the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan.
While resiliency describes an individual’s ability to bounce back, PTG, on the other hand, refers to what can happen when someone who has difficulty bouncing back experiences a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs, endures psychological struggle (even a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder), and then ultimately finds a sense of personal growth. It’s a process that takes a lot of time, energy and struggle,” Taku says.
So basically, post-traumatic growth isn’t the absence of distress after trauma, but it includes a positive transformation and an expansion of the person’s core beliefs, personality, wisdom, understanding and also empathy. These psychological gains then seem to lead to the individual living a richer, more fulfilling, happier life.
To evaluate whether and to what extent someone has achieved growth after trauma, psychologists use a variety of self-report scales. One that was developed by Tedeschi and Calhoun is the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996).
It describes what type of changes occur in PTG and looks for positive responses in five areas:
1. Through trauma we discover that we are stronger and more resilient than we thought.
2. Because of what we have overcome we have a deeper appreciation of and gratitude for life.
3. Confrontation with aspects of our true nature creates a humility that allows us to have better relationships with others. We become less egotistic and more compassionate and empathetic towards others.
4. Because we have lost something that we took for granted, new possibilities emerge with new priorities and goals. Often, we find a purpose beyond ourselves.
5. A discovery or confirmation of a spiritual connection and change which provides us with a more profound understanding of life including the discovery that meaning in life is key.
There is actually also a 6th domain that is currently being researched by Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee, a GP and wellbeing coach.
The Media Needs to Start Show-Casing More Positive Outcomes for Men’s Mental Health
Due to the media’s obsession with focusing on the negatives, especially relating to the mental health statistics of men and ex-servicemen in general, most of the general public has developed a skewed association between men, servicemen and PTSD. This is because the media has neglected to report on positive psychological outcomes such as post-traumatic growth, that it even exists or that it has been found to be more of a “common” experience for servicemen than was ever previously believed.
It’s time that the APA and the media started to work together to educate society on not only the negative outcomes for servicemen but also the positive ones. This would provide a more balanced narrative along with helpful information regarding the mental health of servicemen in general.
Furthermore, educating the masses that not only is PTSD a very treatable condition, and also that it is not the only outcome after trauma and/or combat, would help to create a more supportive, positive environment for anyone needing to seek treatment for PTSD and also provide hope of positive outcomes.
Both of these would help to encourage men to seek treatment and undoubtedly save lives.
The theories and research around post-traumatic growth are inspiring and provide hope for healing, recovery and even transformation for anyone who has experienced trauma in their life.
If you or someone that you know has experienced trauma and/or would like to seek treatment for PTSD or any other mental health condition you can find help and support here:
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis centre, or text MHA to 741741 at the
Crisis Text Line.
UK INFO: The CALM helpline is available 5pm – midnight, 365 days a year on 0800 58 58 58.
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