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Post-Traumatic Growth: What It Is & What It Tells Us About Trauma

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Trauma can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. However, for some individuals, the experience of trauma can also serve as a catalyst for personal growth and positive change. This phenomenon is known as Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG). In this blog post, we will explore the definition and origin of PTG, and common traits and factors associated with it. We’ll also discuss the controversy surrounding this topic.

The Origin of Post-Traumatic Growth

The concept of PTG was first introduced in the mid-1990s by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. They observed that many individuals who had experienced traumatic events reported experiencing growth and positive change as a result of their struggles. Since then, PTG has become a widely researched topic in the field of psychology, with numerous studies and articles being published on the subject.

Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) refers to the changes that can occur as a result of a traumatic experience. Unlike Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by negative symptoms, PTG is associated with positive change. These changes occur in areas such as personal strength, relationships, and spiritual beliefs. 

The origins of Post-Traumatic Growth can be traced back to the work of Holocaust survivors and veterans of war, who often spoke about the positive changes that resulted from their traumatic experiences. They described a sense of increased personal strength, greater appreciation for life, and a deeper understanding of the human condition. This led researchers to investigate the possibility that trauma could lead to positive changes, rather than just negative symptoms.


Traits & Factors Associated with Post-Traumatic Growth

 Research has shown that there are certain traits and factors that are associated with individuals who experience PTG. For example, individuals who have a pre-existing sense of purpose or a strong support system may be more likely to experience PTG. Additionally, individuals who have a tendency to be self-reflective and introspective may be more likely to experience PTG.

It is also important to note that not all individuals who experience trauma will experience PTG. Factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and access to therapy can also play a role in whether an individual experiences PTG. For example, research has shown that individuals from marginalized communities may be less likely to experience PTG due to a lack of access to therapy and other resources.

Controversy & Pitfalls of this theory

Not all individuals who experience trauma will experience post-traumatic growth the way it is described in this theory. Growth presents differently in each individual, therefore the measurements of this growth must be assessed by the individuals themselves. Factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and access to therapy can also play a role in whether an individual experiences post traumatic growth as described by this theory. Individuals may experience personal growth post-trauma in ways that are not considered in the current description of post-traumatic growth.


The focus on PTG can be harmful, as it can put pressure on individuals who have experienced trauma to “move on” and “find the silver lining.” It can also be argued that PTG can be used to justify traumatic events, rather than addressing the underlying issues that may have led to the trauma in the first place.

Post-Traumatic Growth is not the same as resilience

Dr. Dawnsha Mushong, Ph.D., is a professor of health and human services at the University of Baltimore. She compares PTG to the transformation of a butterfly, explaining “it’s the struggle in the cocoon that gives butterflies the wings to fly”. 

Dr. Mushonga suggests, “some individuals learn just how strong they are when faced with adversity. Growth is likely to occur when an individual comes to the realization that their life is no longer the same after the trauma and that their previous ways of thinking and behaving are no longer helpful.”

Post-traumatic growth is understudied in Black communities. The majority of this research has been conducted on primarily white and affluent populations. This has led to a lack of understanding of how PTG may manifest differently in non-white communities.

Resilience refers to an individual’s ability to cope with and adapt to stress and adversity. It is the process of “bouncing back” from difficult experiences and returning to a pre-trauma state of functioning.

On the other hand, PTG refers to adaptive change & growth experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. It is the process of going beyond just coping or bouncing back and instead, using the experience of trauma to grow and develop in new ways. PTG can manifest in various ways, such as increased self-esteem, improved relationships, greater appreciation of life, and a sense of personal strength. Both resilience and PTG can be positive outcomes of experiencing trauma, but they are not the same thing.

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The Takeaway's

  • PTG is a theory based on the positive changes an individual can experience as a result of their reaction to traumatic experiences. 
  • Not all individuals who experience trauma will experience PTG, and factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and access to therapy can play a role.
  • The current description of PTG may not be applicable to all individuals and forms of personal growth, and the pressure to have a positive outcome can be harmful.
  • PTG is not a linear process and individuals may experience a fluctuation of positive and negative feelings.
  • PTG should be seen as a complementary aspect to traditional forms of therapy or treatment for trauma, rather than a replacement.
  • It’s important to approach the topic of PTG with cultural sensitivity and consider the unique experiences of all individuals, customs and practices.
  • PTG should be viewed as one possible outcome of experiencing trauma, and is not considered “better” or “worse”, but instead measured based on a person’s identified wellness and sense of being.

Because trauma is a complex and individualized experience, it is important to have the right support.

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