In the midst of a crisis the future can seem bleak. But there is hope. The new science of posttraumatic growth has shown that people report positive changes following even highly stressful events.

People often talk about how trauma has been transformational in their lives. Survivors often describe how their views on life and their priorities have changed, or how they have developed a new sense of who they are and what they are capable of, or how they feel closer and more loving toward other people and have found that their relationships have been taken to a deeper level.

The term posttraumatic growth was first coined by two pioneering clinical researchers, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. They developed the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) to assess five different aspects of growth.

Relating to Others

New Possibilities

Personal Strength

Spiritual Change

A New Appreciation of Life

The knowledge of posttraumatic growth gives us hope that even in the face of devastating events we have the capacity to thrive.

Deciding to actively seek posttraumatic growth can help you to overcome adversity and move forward.

If you have experienced an event which has been traumatic – be it bereavement, illness, accident, disaster, or even events in your childhood that you continue to struggle with, it may help to reflect on how these five different aspects relate to your own life:

• Are there ways in which your relationships with family and friends have been strengthened and deepened in intimacy?

• Are they ways in which you have found a different perspective on life with new opportunities?

• Are there things you did to survive what happened that showed you strengths within yourself that you didn’t know you had?

• Are there ways in which you have found a greater understanding of life and how to live it?

• Are there ways in which you find yourself being more grateful for what you have and for those around you?

Think about concrete examples of things you have done that illustrate your answers. It’s useful once a week to take time out to reflect on the past week and find examples of how you have changed in these ways. Think also about what things you can do next week that demonstrate posttraumatic growth.

Coping with trauma is not easy. Life invariably brings trauma and adversity and we are all haunted by the ghosts of our past. But we can’t change what has happened. Thus we need to learn to use our suffering wisely.

To find out more about posttraumatic growth, listen to my interview with Natasha Mitchell on ABC Radio Australia.

In the interview I talk about how trauma can be a powerful force for growth, how the idea of posttraumatic growth challenges traditional views of trauma to give us hope, and offers us a way to take control of our lives and learn to move forward.

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