Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a theory that has garnered a lot of attention in the scientific community.
In short, it is a theory that claims that after a traumatic event, there can be positive growth in an individual. Responding to adversity, a person may find a greater appreciation for others and gain new insights on how to live.
However, what therapists and researchers can’t agree on is whether or not post-traumatic growth is actually occurring or if it is just an illusion of growth.
This article will examine both sides of the argument to help disclose the positive and negatives of the theory and how it might apply to you or a loved one.
Looking Further Into PTG
Post-traumatic growth came into the conversation in the 1990’s when two psychologists, Lawrence Calhoun and Richard Tedeschi, began observing positive changes in patients following a trauma. Their theory’s claim is that there is a way in which new outlooks on life, spiritual changes, and modes in which we connect with others can be a positive effect of trauma.
To determine whether a patient has undergone post-traumatic growth, psychologists turn to the PTG inventory list which includes:
- A greater appreciation of life
- Change in relationships with others
- Harnessing of new possibilities in life
- Finding personal strength
- Spiritual change
A psychologist will look for significant change to occur in each area as proof of individual growth.
The Reasons to Advocate for Post-Traumatic Growth
If you are an advocate for PTG, it is likely because you believe it to be a better solution to traditional therapies for post-traumatic stress.
The argument is that traditional therapies only help patients “get by” or find short-term solutions to problems such as trouble sleeping or working through daily activities. While, in contrast, PTG encourages long-term changes in the individual.
These lasting, positive changes can be such things as strengthening a sense of self, focusing more attention on inter-personal relationships, finding new meaning in life, or looking to the future for possibilities.
How Does Post-Traumatic Growth Play Into Therapy?
A therapist who advocates for PTG does not begin tackling post-traumatic stress by making dream boards with their clients. Rather, the therapist waits for the patient to show signs of positive growth and then builds a treatment plan that centers around those areas of growth.
By building the therapy sessions around the positive growth, the patient hopefully gains long-term goals and optimism.
What Do the Skeptics Say About PTG?
The biggest argument against the post-traumatic growth theory is that there isn’t much evidence to support that it exists. Because is it difficult to track what the patient mental situations was before the trauma, determining individual growth can be almost impossible.
In addition, it can be hard to tell what is actual growth versus the illusion of growth. For instance, we may feel positive changes as a coping mechanism to the trauma rather than actually experiencing the changes. This can be dangerous because, over time, the feeling of positive change can wear off. When this occurs, the unresolved trauma becomes more prominent.
Therefore, some experts claim that PTG can actually worsen the effect of post-traumatic stress over time.
What to Take Away From the Debate
Post-traumatic growth is difficult to study and fairly new to psychologists. It would be unwise to make any definite decisions about its efficacy.
For those that believe they have experienced positive growth after a trauma, PTG and the therapies that utilize it are a light at the end of a dark tunnel. In fact, seeking out treatment plans that can incorporate PTG may not be a bad idea. However, these therapies should always take into account the day-to-day struggles that traditional therapies tackle.
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