June is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month. Does that mean Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) applies as well?
Most likely you have already read or seen that PTSD can occur after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event such as combat, sexual or physical assault, a serious accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack. Symptoms that can result are anger/irritability, flashbacks, anxiety, fear, hyperarousal/hypervigilance, nightmares, and avoidance of person’s places, or things that are reminders of the event. Of course, one will experience changes in mood and thinking and one may not have full awareness or even make sense on why the aforementioned symptoms may be happening. Close family and friends may see the signs but the individual may not.
We can all agree that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnostic label used by clinicians to make sense of what one is experiencing and to offer direction on treatment goals. Unfortunately, our society and media have stigmatized the term along with stereotypes and misunderstanding of its true nature. When one hears the term PTSD it can cast all sorts of beliefs and perceptions. Keep in mind, no one ever asked for a trauma to happen. Compound a traumatic experience with stigma and false perceptions and the effect can be detrimental.
There are professionals who are trained to assess, diagnose and treat PTSD, and several traditional avenues of treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy, Cognitive processing therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, and medication management.
There are other paths one can take on their journey outside of professional counseling and medication management. For example, peer to peer support, alternative therapies (art, music, equestrian, ecotherapy etc.), vision quest activity, journaling, movement, and doing for others. Mind Body Medicine, evidence-based skills of self-awareness, self-care, and self- expression can have profound and lasting effects on those challenged with trauma and PTSD.
I have heard PTSD referred to as Posttraumatic “Soul” or “Spirit” Disorder which offers another level of consideration for one’s path toward healing. All Veterans with PTSD, are like some Veterans with PTSD are like no other Veteran with PTSD. Each is on their own unique journey of PTG and it will be up to the individual to discover what strategy works best.
According to Tedeschi and Calhoun PTG is the ability to take a negative experience and see that it can spur positive change. It is a choice in how one views trauma and how letting go of the past can open and welcome the future. Trauma is the agent of change and the space where change can occur with a lot of time, energy and struggle.
Through their research Tedeschi and Calhoun were able to identify five areas of growth achieved after trauma and my hope is they can be a guide post for you.
- Have new opportunities emerged as a result of the struggle? Have new possibilities opened up that were not present prior to the trauma(s)? What would it mean if one could see opportunity from the challenge?
- What new relationships developed as a result of the trauma? Have closer relationships developed with specific people that you already knew or with new relationships? What about the experience of empathy and/or closer connection to those who suffer?
- Has there been a greater appreciation for life in general that didn’t exist before? What new sense of gratitude now exists?
- Was there a deepening of one’s spiritual life? In what way? If not spiritually, was there a significant change in one’s belief system?
- One final question for consideration, in facing a new challenge/trauma/difficult situation, would one prefer to be the person one was before the event or the person after? How do you think those on a journey of PTG respond?
You’ve heard the saying, “All roads, lead to Rome”? One must decide to take a road, to begin the journey and to find an avenue of healing that works for them. C.S. Lewis shared, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” There are many extraordinary Service Members, Veterans and Families, who have chosen the path of posttraumatic growth. No one ever need be alone on the journey.
PTSD is real and treatment options are available. PTG is real and conveys there is hope and opportunity for positive change and growth. This journey can begin right now.
Learn more about the WDVA Counseling & Wellness Programs at: https://dva.wa.gov/veterans-their-families/counseling-and-wellness