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Trauma & Post-Traumatic Growth

By HERWriter
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Emotional Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Every day in the news, we read or hear about horrible tragedies. But, we never know what happens the day after the trauma.

According to the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., half of all Americans will face a traumatic experience.

ʺMost of the traumatic aftermath of these tragedies doesn’t make it to the press,ʺ says Carolyn Coarsey, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Atlanta and cofounder of the Family Assistance Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving corporate disaster response. ʺAnyone who lives through something like this returns to a life that is totally different.ʺ

Nearly two thirds of trauma victims, even those who had extreme pain, say they ultimately benefited from the aftermath of their experience, according to the research of Richard G. Tedeschi, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The research tracked the outcomes of people who survived traumas and accidents including: life-threatening illnesses or the death of a child. Tedeschi and his colleagues identified a phenomenon they call post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic growth is when survivors grow closer to people they love or when others develop a sense of personal strength or appreciation for life. Also, some spiritual beliefs deepened or others changed their career and life goals.

Women are more likely than men to report these benefits.

Studies show individuals who are more extroverted, optimistic and open to new experiences are most likely to experience post-traumatic growth.

“It’s not about getting over it‚ it’s about processing it in the most meaningful way,” Tedeschi says. “You still have your fears and grief and suffering, but you have made your suffering meaningful. If you can learn to do that, you can get through the bad stuff in life and find value in the struggle.”

Between six percent and nine percent of people who have experienced or witnessed a life-threatening accident will develop PTSD.

According to research by David F. Tolin, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at The Institute of Living, a psychiatric hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, one of the primary risk factors for PTSD is simply being a woman.

ʺHowever, when you expose people with PTSD to visuals or sounds that remind them of their trauma, women do show more signs of physiological arousal, such as a higher heart rate.ʺ said Tolin. ʺOne possibility is that women’s brain hormones make them more vulnerable to PTSD.”

Tolin adds, one in ten women has also experienced some kind of sexual assault and that history often makes recovering from another trauma more difficult.

In the face of high doses of trauma, and especially if there are signs of post-traumatic stress, early treatment is essential, states Joseph C. Napoli, M.D., a psychiatrist in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and co-director of Resiliency, a crisis-response consulting firm.

Psychologists say taking action and finding positive passions can spur post-traumatic growth. Some survivors turn to religion, volunteering, athletics or another outlet. Others show growth by transforming their trauma into service, speaking in the community, serving as a witness in court or lobbying for laws that would prevent similar accidents.

Coming to terms with the loss of control is also key to creating a more fulfilling life after trauma, says Ken Reinhard, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic for the Veteran’s Administration Hudson Valley Health Care System in Montrose, New York.

If you’re struggling after a trauma, visit the American Psychological Association at APA.org.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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