Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a theory that was developed in the 1990’s after psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun noticed that people who endure trauma can often see positive growth afterwards. This is a phenomena that has also been noted by other clinicians such as Besel Van der Kolk.
“I found that the more traumas they have had in their background, the more creative and successful they often become. It’s the people who have had to struggle who often see new possibilities and have no choice but to discover new options.”
Van der Kolk. 2015
One theory as to why this might occur is to be found in the field of biology.
Hormesis & PTG
Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health or stress tolerance for example) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. An example would be the practice of some Amazonian tribes of administering low doses of poison as initiation rituals for young men. (NOTE: don’t try this at home!)
Post-traumatic growth (PTG) appears to work along similar lines according to the principles of hormesis. PTG is a positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.9 According to Tedeshi & Calhoun;
“Growth does not occur as a direct result of trauma, rather it is the individual’s struggle with the new reality in the aftermath of trauma that is crucial in determining the extent to which posttraumatic growth occurs”
Five areas of PTG
There are five areas where people previously suffering PTSD or other traumatic stress reactions have been observed to experience transformational growth.
- Personal strength
- Relationships with others
- New perspectives on life
- Appreciation of life
However, we should note that these growth spurts are the result of actions on the part of the individuals to locate resources, support structures and methods of dealing with their symptoms of trauma.
To this end we will devote the final section to briefly explore some of these methods.