Post-Traumatic Growth; Can We Embrace New Possibilities?

By Maria Anna van Driel,

When somebody experiences a traumatic event, they are often supported by people in social, work, legal, and clinical contexts who ask them repeatedly to recount their personal stories.

This retelling of these events can exacerbate symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and potentially re-traumatize the person. Then, in the moment behaviours like depression and confusion, or someone voicing not wanting to live this life anymore, can be clearly observed with someone by means of a e.g. therapists using this approach, basic Jungian psychology is being unleashed on the client for him or her to walk a long and rough path of lacerating the shadow of ‘self’ in order to ‘heal’ their psyche.  This can leave someone’s psyche stuck in a dark place, looking down into the abyss of misery´, for an unnecessarily long period of time. Not to mention that re-telling the trauma experienced that much often leads to an unrealistic form of Gestalt processing.

This, in my opinion, is using brutal force instead of techniques. This can be done differently, more effectively and, free from unnecessary tensions and /or anxieties for the client. Unfortunately, many psychologists, therapists, and counselors are, regardless of the reason, not looking in the direction of applying a new approach to their way of working with people which in turn is often leading to occupational blindness or tunnel vision.

Image: Not focusing directly on the trauma(s) experienced in reducing the level of anxiety felt and brings people more in tune with themselves, the world, and the people in it. In other words, it can accelerate one’s healing process.

Working towards a mental recovery is teamwork! 

As an emergency counselor myself, understanding the aftershock caused by trauma by means of personal experiences,  I, as a third party, witnessed and observed the behavior of several psychologists and therapists firsthand while working in the field with real-life cases. And, although they assert to possess years of experience in working with 1st responders, to my big surprise many are still holding on to this old fashion technique of ‘re-traumatizing the client in order to fix them’.

I also noticed that, during these moments in the field, some are using a language and behaviour that has a manipulative effect on the client’s temporary fragile mind.  Personally, I am of the opinion that one should not try to mold someone’s mind into what is thought to be okay to fit into modern society. One should work together with the client to reduce the effects of e.g. predominant anxiety spawned from trauma.

Anyway, based on what I have observed, I am of the opinion that the red thread in modern psychology is that it is practiced in reverse whereby some psychologists, therapists, and counselors even shift the blame to the client for not cooperating correctly toward a ‘healthy healing process at the moment they disagree with what is being presented as a therapeutic solution simply because it does not fit the client’s situation and mindset.

This way of forcing people into an unwanted situation with an old fashion technique of  ‘re-traumatizing the client in order to fix them’, could be one of the many reasons why many are feeling a particular distrust toward therapists and/or psychologists in general.

And that throws us back to a new approach…cognitive flexibility.

Trauma is a powerful source of positive change

We have all heard about stress and its inevitability, but succumbing to the dismay when it strikes us does not have to haunt us for a lifetime. Although it might be contra to what some psychologists, therapists, and counselors, advocate, positivity, and laughter, for instance, do have a deeper and longer effect in losing certain tensions whereby this suffering suddenly has transformative power.

In the 1980s two psychologists, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, discovered that trauma was changing people in fundamental ways. Some of those changes were negative, but to their surprise, the majority of trauma survivors they interviewed reported that their lives had changed for the better. Survivors of all kinds, they contacted more than 600 people, said they had much greater inner strength than they ever thought, that they were closer to friends and family members, that life had more meaning, or that they were reorienting their lives towards more fulfilling goals.  Since then researchers around the world have begun delving into post-traumatic growth (PTG).

While resilience can help to withstand the pain to some extent, Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), or ‘transformation through turmoil’ as Dr. Steve Taylor calls it in his book “Extraordinary Awakenings When Trauma Leads to Transformation”, is empowering us to grasp the knowledge of using the pain to change our lives for the better.

When we think about it for a moment, it is remarkable to see that the brain is capable of ‘choosing’ such a vivid form of processing the aftershock and stress that is accompanied by trauma.  However, be in religion, poetry, philosophy, or literature, the general understanding of how pain can be beneficial is not a new concept altogether. The scientific field of positive psychology has embraced this process of thriving and calls it Post-Traumatic Growth Order (PTGO) better known as the self-improvement one undergoes after experiencing life challenges.

The idea of Post Traumatic Growth Order is a popular one and describes how survivors of traumatic events cannot only heal from their trauma, but may actually grow into stronger, more driven, and more resilient people because of their trauma.  Odd isn’t…I mean, although these are terrible things to go through, somehow these nasty moments are providing you the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into both yourself and others and, see it from a positive side with which you can work… professionally and/or privately.

To summarize the territory traveled in this article, although CPTSD and PTSD are no unknown terms, the effects are still not well understood by our culture or media and by many in the medical profession. I think this stems from the term  ‘disorder’. Tt’s logical for many to assume that whenever someone is having a hard time adjusting to a series of stressful or traumatic life-changing events, that they might have a mental disorder that, according to some, should be ‘corrected’ as soon as possible.

Without a doubt, trauma is a vivid nightmare that makes itself present while we are in this state of being ‘awake’. Not only is it, for a myriad of people, difficult to overcome the psychological bruises which are caused by trauma, it also takes tremendous perseverance and resilience to overcome this invisible battle that is taking place day in and day out.

But, as we all know, we are all unique individuals meaning, everyone has their own way of responding to a traumatic event or events. And even though PTSD is traditionally thought of as being comprised of at least three components re-experiencing symptoms, arousal, and avoidance, this state of mind, this terrible nightmare, can work to your advantage.

We need to realize that the struggle, odd as it might sound right now, is a good thing. So, I want to challenge you! I want you to lean into your struggles and into the challenges that you are having. But I want you more than anything to live your life in such a way that you inspire and encourage greatness in others.

So, are you ready to begin to think of ‘struggle’ in a new way? Are you ready to recognize that it is in these struggles we are transformed, or shifting, into a more authentic, more striking and more spiritual person?  A person that is looking towards a bright future?

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