Even extreme stress can have positive side effects. Research and media reports focus heavily on post-traumatic stress disorder, providing the impression that PTSD is the rule; when the reality is that PTSD is the exception. Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) point out that, "Only a minority of people who are exposed to traumatic events develop long-standing psychiatric disorders" (para. 1).
Although they do not mean to diminish research designed to understand and address stress from traumatic events, they observed that cases of post-traumatic growth far outnumber cases of stress-induced psychiatric disorders. In other words, the struggles people face and the losses people suffer tend to produce "valuable gains" (para. 5), which include better relationships, new opportunities, enhanced appreciation, a stronger sense of purpose, and spiritual development.
How trauma impacts the counselor
Regardless of the growth that usually results from traumatic events, counselors, and friends who attempt to facilitate post-traumatic growth should consider the following practices:
- Do not attempt to propose solutions to people going through trauma. "Never engage in the insensitive introduction of didactic information or trite comments about growth coming from suffering" (para. 15), they said. For example, the problem solver should not be surprised when "I am so sorry about your loss, but you can rejoice that your husband is with God now" does not elicit halleluiah shouts.
- Change with the survivor. "Being changed as a result of listening to the story of the trauma and its aftermath communicates the highest degree of respect for the patient and encourages them to see the value in their own experience" (para. 14)
- Allow the survivor time to adapt cognitively to the aftermath of trauma. Do not attempt to force growth.
Adjusting to a post-traumatic growth perspective
Important points from the post-traumatic growth perspective are as follows:
- A focus on the growth potential of traumatic events should not diminish the suffering of those who live through traumatic events.
- Post-traumatic growth and distress coexist; growth comes from a struggle with coping, not from the trauma.
- Although good come from trauma, trauma is not good and is not necessary for growth to occur.
- Although most people who experience trauma experience post-traumatic growth, some people experience no growth or suffer long-term psychological problems. "We are not raising the bar on trauma survivors so that they are to be expected to show post-traumatic growth before being considered recovered" (para. 18).
Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. (2004, April 1). Posttraumatic growth: A new perspective on psychotraumatology. Retrieved December 4, 2009, from Psychiatric Times: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/54661?verify=0