Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)
Most people have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Hopefully, Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)
will become just as common. One is a mental health disorder. The other is a mental health feat.
Putting the pieces back together after PTSD.
PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a psychological condition that’s the result of a terrifying occurrence threatening or actually causing harm. Triggering or re-triggering events include sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, natural disasters, war, school shootings, serious disease, and the loss of a loved one. Life and death situations can have life-altering effects.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used to categorize and diagnose mental illnesses and disorders. It identifies four criteria needed to diagnose PTSD, including re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognitions, and arousal.
Re-experiencing via vivid memories, dreams, and flashbacks.
Avoidance of people, places, and things that are reminders of past trauma.
Negative cognitions include a sense of unworthiness, feeling deeply flawed, or at fault for the trauma..
Arousal causes aggressive and destructive behavior, sleep difficulties, and/or hyper-vigilance.
PTSD can exhibit itself as depression, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, dissociation (disconnecting from one’s thoughts and feelings), generalized pain, fatigue, insomnia, migraines, or sexual dysfunction. PTSD is not a psychosis; rather, it’s an anxiety disorder that can be treated.
How can the pieces get put back together? Trauma-focused psychotherapy has proven to be effective. That comes after PTSD sets in and before Post-Traumatic Growth really takes form. About half of the studies in the PTSD-Repository are based on psychotherapy.* Studies have found it to be the most effective treatment thus far. There are a variety of psychotherapy techniques including: Behavioral Activation (BA), Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which is what I use most often), Cognitive Processing Therapy, Couples Therapy, EMDR, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Narrative Exposure Therapy, Present-Centered Therapy, Prolonged Exposure, Psychodynamic Therapy, Stress Inoculation Therapy, Supportive Counseling, and Written Exposure Therapy. It is difficult to narrow down the list. Typically, a counselor, therapist or psychologist uses one or two such techniques. Each can help in different ways, bringing unique results for separate individuals.
PTG or Post-Traumatic Growth can occur during and after PTSD. It uses the adversity surrounding trauma and transforms it into different strengths and advantages. For instance, a mother who struggles with an autism diagnosis of her son may, at some point, volunteer for an organization that helps kids on the autism spectrum. In this way, she helps turn a negative, difficult reaction into a positive direction. Adversity becomes advantage. This can be illustrated through the Japanese art of kintsugi. That's where broken pieces of pottery are put back together using glue with gold foil (see the photo above). The idea is that the repaired piece is more beautiful than the original precisely because it has been broken. So, although PTSD is most often associated only with negative reactions and states of being. Post-traumatic Growth can help turn that around.