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Harvesting Hope

Five useful tips for cultivating hope

Trauma can leave people feeling hopeless. It can be hard to get going in the mornings, to sustain energy throughout the day, and to think about the future in anything but pessimistic ways.

Research has shown that hopeful children, adolescents and adults do better in school and athletics, are in better health, have better problem solving skills and are better adjusted psychologically.

Can hope be a secret ingredient to recovery from trauma too?

A new study published in the journal Psychological Trauma suggests that this is indeed the case.

Participants were 164 veterans diagnosed with PTSD who received Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). This involved the veterans writing accounts of the trauma in order to explore their interpretations of events. Veterans completed various measures of trauma and hope at several points including pre-and post-treatment.

Although CPT is not designed to specifically foster hope the authors reasoned that it may be a mechanism underpinning therapeutic success. Using cross-lagged path models to analyse their data it was found that having a higher level of hope coming into and during the course of therapy was associated with reductions in PTSD symptom severity.

For anyone feeling hopeless, you may not be able to immediately reverse how you feel, but what you can do is to decide that you would like to be more hopeful.

Five useful tips on harvesting hope are:

1. Don’t underestimate the power of hope – make it your aim to be more hopeful even if this seems impossible.

2. Look for stories of recovery that inspire you – read and listen to accounts of people who have overcome the worst.

3. Seek out relationships that cultivate hope in you – spend time with those who encourage and bring out the best in you.

4. Think about how you have overcome obstacles in the past – what are the steps you took to manage a previous situation? How can you apply this to your current situation?

5. Imagine a future in which you will be doing things that give you pleasure – in a year what you like to be doing that you can’t now? In five years?

Even in the darkest moments it is possible to find hope. Hope allows us to begin to connect in our minds our present situation with a future in which we have overcome adversity.


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Gilman, R., Schumm, J. A., & Chard, K. M. (2012). Hope as a change mechanism in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4, 270-277.

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