Thriving Beyond Trauma: What is Posttraumatic Growth

What is Posttraumatic Growth

The phoenix rising from its ashes may be a fairy tale, but the belief that existential crises bear a transformative potential is deeply rooted within our society. Is there anything to it? And if so, what does this potential hold?

In this blog post, we will take a close look at the concept of posttraumatic growth . To do so, we will focus on the work of Professors Tedeschi, Shakespeare-Finch, Taku and Calhoun (2018) who have co-authored a book on the subject: “Posttraumatic growth: theory, research and applications.”

Working definition of Trauma

Defining what is traumatic can be difficult, and there are many definitions. This article will use the definition of authors Tedeschi, Shakespeare-Finch, Taku and Calhoun (2018) who describe trauma as “a highly stressful and challenging life-altering event” ( p.4).

“The event needs to be significant enough to challenge the basic assumptions about one’s future and how to move toward that future, and therefore produce massive anxiety and psychic pain that is difficult to manage. Inherent in these traumatic experiences are losses such as the loss of loved ones, of cherished roles or capabilities, or of fundamental, accepted ways of understanding life.” (Tedeschi et al., 2018, p.4)

Defining post-traumatic

Post-traumatic does not refer to the period immediately after a traumatic event, but to the longer-term period after the event. “Post-trauma is usually an extended time period, from days to years, where people develop new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, because the events they have experienced do not permit a return to baseline functioning. This is a crucial way that posttraumatic growth is also distinguished from “resilience,” a return to baseline or resistance to trauma, and “recovery,” which has similar connotations.” (Tedeschi et al., 2018, p.5)

Defining growth

Growth involves a positive change in an individual’s cognitive and emotional life, often accompanied by changes in behaviour. As you can imagine this growth is unplanned and unexpected, when it arises from the results of a major life crisis.

Outcomes of posttraumatic growth

What can growth look like after a traumatic experience? Tedeschi et al., 2018 outlined five areas of personal development that have emerged as particularly promising domains in research.

1. Personal Strength: 

an “increased sense of self-reliance, a sense of strength and confidence, and a perception of self as survivor or victor rather than “victim. (…) This can then lead to behavioural changes, such as a newfound engagement in the challenges of learning something completely new.”

2. Relating to Others: 

“(…) one’s attitudes or behaviours in relationships may be changed in positive ways” – such as an increase in willingness to express emotions or accepting help or “a conscious decision to spend more time with family and friends and tell them how much you love and value them.” The decision to distance oneself from relationships that are no longer positive can also be a form of posttraumatic growth.

3. New Possibilities: 

This can be seen in individuals finding and taking new paths in life. “It also can be experienced through developing new interests, activities, or habits, or by building a new career that would not have been a part of one’s life if there had been no triggering event in the first place.”

4. Appreciation of Life: 

“This (…) includes a greater appreciation for all the things that life has to offer, whether small things previously taken for granted or a greater appreciation for things that people still have in their lives. Because of what has happened, some people may see life as the gift of a second chance that should be cherished.”

5. Spiritual and existential change: 

The authors found this domain to be significant but that “the extent to which people endorsed such changes varied across cultures.”

Posttraumatic growth is unplanned

It is important to understand that posttraumatic growth is unplanned and as such it cannot be a goal  in a therapeutic setting. The therapist’s role after a traumatic experience is to support you on your journey towards recovery and healing. From this posttraumatic growth may follow.

Seeking Help after a trauma

If you are suffering from the consequences of a distressing experience, please call us on (03) 9077 0122 today. At the Centre for Clinical Psychology, “We Know Trauma Therapy”. We know that it can take many years to seek help and to start down the path of recovery. We are here to help.


Tedeschi, R. G., Shakespeare-Finch, J., Kanako Taku, & Calhoun, L. G. (2018). Posttraumatic growth : theory, research and applications. Routledge.