Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) is defined as “a result of processes initiated by a significant challenge to a person’s assumptive world” (Tedeschi et al., 2018, p. 6). Tedeschi et al. (2018) explain PTG is based on the idea of positive change following a traumatic event, a transformation that requires the affected person to reshape their perspective on the world. This definition is based on the decades of research that shaped the core ideas of PTG. On the definition of PTG, Tedeschi et al. interpret this concept not only as changes per se but as the changes to the individual’s assumptions about the world initiated after the traumatic experience. Tedeschi et al. (2018) explain that such transformations should result from the challenge to the person’s core beliefs.
The majority of the utilized articles used the original definition introduced by Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996). Each of the discussed works presents a comprehensive overview of published studies that explore how PTG occurs in different populations affected by trauma. While some studies focus on a specific target group, for instance, military personnel or PTSD-affected patients, others evaluate the evidence collected from a more diverse sample of individuals who have undergone different types of trauma.
Measuring the Achievement of PTG
The core idea behind the concept remains the same, as each study defined PTG as a positive psychological change experienced after a traumatic occurrence. As PTG is not a personality trait but rather a phenomenon, an experience that can occur, it can be observed or measured. While observation at times is utilized, it can prove to be challenging to conduct; thus, researchers typically use interviews and surveys (Schubert et al., 2016). Structured and semi-structured interviews are frequently utilized in empirical studies (Schubert et al., 2016). Surveys are the most popular, as they allow for a variety of instruments and a quantitative approach. The most implemented and well-researched measures are scales that assess the achievement of PTG based on the participant’s reflection of the experience.
For instance, an article by Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) focuses on the concept of PTG and the empirical evidence that supports it. The scholars refer to their original definition of PTG and mention that it is highly significant to clearly comprehend the positive aspects of struggling with trauma to create a valid measure (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). The authors describe the theoretical and practical notions behind it, namely traumatic events, growth, and cognitive processing (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). Discussing the process of PTG in detail, the authors cite empirical evidence that demonstrates the importance of achieving PTG for improving the affected individuals’ well-being.
Nevertheless, other instruments for assessing PTG were also suggested, resulting in the emergence of a variety of measuring tools that are based on different understandings of PTG. Other authors have introduced measures based on different conceptual ideas, such as the Stress-Related Growth Scale by Park et al. (Schubert et al., 2016). Cohen and Murch’s Perceived Benefits Scales (PBS) consider the idea of “perceived benefits,” focusing explicitly on the changes that are regarded as positive by the individuals. Antoni et al. have also suggested the Benefit Finding Scale (BFS), which had the most reliable results (Schubert et al., 2016).
5 Domains in PTGI
Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996) developed and approbated the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI), a tool for measuring the achievement of PTG. The inventory is based on five factors of growth, namely relating to others, new possibilities, personal strength, spiritual change, and appreciation of life (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). These areas were established in a series of trials, where participants answered questions related to their experiences in achieving PTG after a negative, traumatic event. Firstly, the authors evaluated a sample of literature that identified occurrences of PTG, creating a series of questions to determine the participants’ experiences of PTG (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). Based on these answers, possible domains were established and further validated in subsequent studies.
Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996) reported that the final questionnaire had high reliability, meaning that it could be successfully used for identifying PTG in various populations. According to other research, these domains majorly correspond to the individuals’ experiences of PTG, while PTGI is the most frequently used questionnaire in contemporary studies (Schubert et al., 2016). In the discussed articles, almost all studies utilize PTGI or PTGI-SF as the primary measure.
PTG and PTSD
While previously, the focus of the research was directed towards applying this construct in studies, currently, more scholars are aiming to analyze this concept in connection to specific populations. A study by Schubert et al. (2016) explores PTG in populations suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), relying on the data derived from 19 research articles. The scholars refer to the definition of PTG introduced by Tedeschi and Calhoun: “the experience of positive psychological change as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (Schubert et al., 2016, p. 470).
The authors of this study present evidence of a positive correlation between PTSD and PTG, which is consistent with past research. Schubert et al. report an emerging connection between these phenomena, based on several articles that found higher scores of PTG in individuals with PTSD compared to those without this diagnosis (Schubert et al., 2016). The main connection lies in the nature of PTSD, which is developed after encountering trauma and is characterized by significant stress (Schubert et al., 2016). The stress, in turn, appears to promote the achievement of PTG. Furthermore, the evaluation revealed that “PTG can be enhanced through therapy, a finding that goes in line with several theoretical approaches” (Schubert et al., 2016, p. 483). Nevertheless, it is highlighted that only one study has explored the correlates between biological factors and PTG, meaning that more research is required in this area (Schubert et al., 2016).
PTG in Military Personnel
Occurrence of PTG in Veterans
The military personnel is of special interest for scholars as the military occupation is connected to a significant level of stress and exposure to trauma. In comparison with individuals who experienced other types of trauma, such as abuse or rape, veteran experiences have a more distinct nature. As such, the article by Mark al., published in 2018, is a comprehensive systematic review of PTG applied to military personnel. Defining PTG as “positive psychological, social, or spiritual growth after a traumatic incident,” the authors clarify the three possible types of positive growth, “psychological, social, or spiritual” (Mark et al., 2018, p. 904).
The main results are as follows:
- PTG is more likely to occur in veterans who have a high level of social support, spirituality, and rumination
- PTG is associated with ethnic minority belonging, with veterans from ethnic minorities being more likely to achieve PTG
- PTG is more likely to occur in active duty personnel, “who are repeatedly more exposed to conflict and may be better equipped to handle the effects of traumatic ordeals” (Mark et al., 2018, p. 913).
From this perspective, it becomes evident that there are unique factors that increase the likelihood of achieving PTG in individuals with military experiences.
The Veterans’ Accounts of PTG Achievement
Habib et al. (2018) presented a review and qualitative analysis of PTG in military and ex-military personnel, having analyzed nine qualitative studies. The authors adopt the following definition of PTG: “positive, meaningful psychological changes that an individual can experience as a result of coping with traumatic life events” (Habib et al., 2018, p. 617). As the authors aimed to assess the qualitative data on PTG in military personnel, all of the included studies used qualitative methods. The authors coded and synthesized a pool of themes that were most frequently discussed by the military personnel who experienced PTG after deployment.
According to the review, there are three main findings:
- Veterans’ achievement of PTG originates from deployment-related trauma
- Veterans who experienced PTG reflect on six topics: life appreciation, re-evaluating purpose, personal traits improvement, connecting with others, integrating into society, and feeling valuable to society
- These outcomes are reported by veterans as the most valuable experiences following the achievement of PTG and can be used to enhance PTG occurrence
Thus, it is concluded that “many (ex-) military personnel experienced growth as a result of trauma experienced on duty, which may allow them to function better and enjoy fulfilling relationships with others” (Habib et al., 2018, p. 623). The authors suggest that PTSD can enhance the occurrence of PTG in veterans, as the emergence of PTSD is connected to significant trauma and thus higher levels of growth.
Given the described evidence, it becomes clear that the occurrence of PTG is a beneficial event for individuals who have encountered trauma. It appears that PTG can indeed promote coping and mental welfare in affected populations, helping them to overcome the negative experiences (Schudert et al., 2016). The factors that promote growth are still being researched. The results of the evaluation suggest that people who experienced PTSD are more likely to achieve PTG, with the possibility to enhance PTG occurrence through therapy (Schudert et al., 2016). All of the included studies used interviews or online surveys to collect data.
PTG in Social Work and Education
Promoting the Well-Being of Community Members
PTG research might be a prominent instrument for improving the psychological welfare of student veterans. The emotional health of this population is a significant concern not only for scholars but also for medical professionals, social workers, and government bodies, which must ensure the availability of psychological aid and PTSD treatment (Dykes, 2016). As noted by Dykes (2016), the studies on PTG reveal that therapy can be utilized to promote mental rehabilitation and stability in student veterans. Thus, social workers can promote the mental welfare of these community members, implementing PTG-facilitating therapy to effectively deal with traumatic experiences and their consequences.
PTG and Higher Education
Of special concern is the application of PTG research in higher education, especially psychological assistance for students who experienced negative events. Trauma can cause tremendous stress and mental pressure, resulting in the reduction of a person’s productivity and subsequent depression; in the long-term, these factors can prevent individuals from receiving higher education (Brooks et al., 2016). Being unable to complete studies is a common issue in trauma survivors, and it has also been identified in veterans returning to education after service (Lipp & O’Brien, 2020). From this perspective, if PTG were to be researched using populations seeking higher education, it would be possible to establish the factors promoting rehabilitation in students who are battling trauma (Lipp & O’Brien, 2020). For instance, interventions facilitating PTG, group sessions, or individual counseling might be beneficial options for addressing trauma experiences in learners. By offering counseling services and psychological aid, higher education facilities can promote the achievement of PTG and support its recognition among the public.
Brooks, M., Lowe, M., Graham-Kevan, N., & Robinson, S. (2016). Posttraumatic growth in students, crime survivors and trauma workers exposed to adversity. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 199–207. Web.
Dykes, G. (2016). Coping, resilience and post-traumatic growth: Adverse childhood experiences and social work students. The Social Work Practitioner-Researcher, 28(1), 18–35. Web.
Habib, A., Stevelink, S. A. M., Greenberg, N., & Williamson, V. (2018). Post-traumatic growth in (ex-) military personnel: Review and qualitative synthesis. Occupational Medicine, 68(9), 617-625.
Lipp, N., & O’Brien, K. M. (2020). Bereaved college students: Social support, coping style, continuing bonds, and social media use as predictors of complicated grief and posttraumatic growth. OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying. Web.
Mark, K. M., Stevelink, S. A., Choi, J., & Fear, N. T. (2018). Post-traumatic growth in the military: a systematic review. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 75(12), 904-915.
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