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1 Understanding Post Traumatic Growth Logos Conference: 25.11.09 David C. Blore Researcher, University of Birmingham.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Understanding Post Traumatic Growth Logos Conference: 25.11.09 David C. Blore Researcher, University of Birmingham."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Understanding Post Traumatic Growth Logos Conference: 25.11.09 David C. Blore Researcher, University of Birmingham

2 2 The objective of this presentation is not to teach you anything… rather it is to make you question what you already understand “The more we know about Post Traumatic Growth, the more we realise we know very little about it” (Tedeschi & Calhoun 1998)

3 3 Agenda  A taxonomic anarchy  Several lessons from history  Changing or reverting?  A balanced view  The role of suffering according to religion  Paradox: when common sense is not common enough  Focus: struggle – not the trauma

4 4 "Our English language is deficient in some respects. We have the word 'trauma' to denote an unfortunate blow that injures the personality, but as yet we have no word that describes an experience that is fortunate, that strengthens the personality. The closest we come to this is to say it is a blessing, but counting our blessings does not really meet our need for a word directly opposite in meaning to 'trauma'." Margaret Mead 1901-78 Cultural anthropologist

5 5 Hollister coined the word ‘Stren’ as the antonym of ‘trauma’ Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is now the widely used label for ‘positive change’ following trauma… …but who’s ever heard or used the word ‘stren’?

6 6 A ‘taxonomic anarchy’ no DSM or ICD for ‘positive change’ …a good or bad thing?  Stren conversion (Finkel 1974, 1975)  Drawing strength from adversity (McCrae 1984)  Positive reinterpretation (Scheier et al 1986)  Positive psychological changes (Yalom & Lieberman 1991)  Perceived benefits and Construing benefits (e.g. Calhoun & Tedeschi 1991)  Transformational coping (e.g. Aldwin 1994)  Thriving (O’Leary & Ickovics 1995)  Post Traumatic Growth / Posttraumatic Growth (Tedeschi & Calhoun 1995)  Stress related growth (Park et al 1996)  Discovery of meaning (Bower et al 1998)  Flourishing (Ryff & Singer 1998)  Positive illusions (Taylor & Brown 1998)  Positive emotions (Folkman & Moskowitz 2000)  Adversarial growth (Linley & Joseph 2004) who also use:  Blessings  Positive by-products  Positive adjustment  Positive adaptation But do all these labels describe the same thing?

7 7 The modern study of ‘positive change’ subsequent to psychological trauma is in its infancy (about 35 years old)… whilst studies into negative outcomes of (say) anxiety and depression, outnumber studies of ‘positive change’ by several orders of magnitude… this leaves the impression that positive change is trivial…. Has this always been so?

8 8 A lesson from history…  The approach to psychological trauma in the Western world is overwhelmingly based on negative symptomatology  This is understandable because of the priority of healthcare to reduce painful suffering and stems directly from the medical model  Historically this negative perspective is atypical. For most of recorded history, the Aristotelian philosophy of positiveness dominated

9 9 A lesson from history…  We have the English Civil War philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) to thank for psychological egoism a deeply negative view of human nature…  …supremely negative ! Hobbes believed that men in a state of nature, that is a state without civil government, are in a war of all against all, in which life is hardly worth living

10 10 A lesson from history…  Within a 100 years of Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was supporting the Aristotelian position by espousing that humans were born moral and with the potential for good  In psychology, McDougall (1820-1903) tried to oppose the negative position by declaring that humans had an empathic instinct

11 11 A lesson from history…  However, and unfortunately because of the power he wielded, Freud belonged to the Hobbesian school when in 1918 he declared: “I have found little that is good in human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash…” “I have found little that is good in human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash…”  But was this human negativity the artefact of our view of humans? Scheff (1966) warned that a categorisation such as mental illness becomes an identity, thus stabilising the role and reinforcing adoption of the negative human view.

12 12 A lesson from history…  All this and DSM as well ! “Sad to say our theories of therapy are principally theories of psychopathology” Held (1991)  So despite efforts to the contrary, the negative view of self- interest, remained the “primary and true motivation” (Jørgensen & Nafstad 2004), even accounting for moral and unselfish behaviour so…  Altruism doesn’t exist after all

13 13 Changing or reverting?  However, Maslow (1954) and later: Tedeschi & Calhoun (1995) - the authors who coined the term Post Traumatic Growth - started to reverse over 300 years of ‘Puritan negativity’  This positiveness broke through more decisively with the creation of a new field in psychology: Positive Psychology associated most strongly with Martin Seligman (from 1999 onwards)

14 14 A balanced view…  This doesn’t mean that we should view responses to psychological trauma as either positive or negative, but that both should be involved to obtain a complete picture  This dual complimentary approach to psychological trauma (or any healthcare issue) takes us into the area traditionally occupied (in the East) by Taoist philosophy in which the ‘whole’ requires a balance of positives and negatives: known as ying and yang (in the West this is traditionally equivalent to the Aristotelian balance of the 4 humours)

15 15 A balanced view…  Adopting this balanced approach would lead to identification of dis-ease by examining the presence of negative symptomatology and absence of positive growth  Do you feel uncomfortable with using the word symptomatology in this way? It just shows how closely associated the word is with negativity…  …a totally different DSM and ICD would ultimately be needed ! The Taoist DSM

16 16 Religion Taoism is just one perspective on meaning- making… religion in the widest context could be seen as a form of… Meta-meaning making i.e. a ‘higher’ way of making meaning of situations that seem to have no meaning… …Particularly suffering

17 17 Religion Buddhism: “…perceives that the origin of suffering lies in desire, and that desire comes from misconception about the nature of things, in particular the nature of self. By removing this ignorance (Buddha) was able to bring suffering to an end in the experience… called Nirvana… which literally means to ‘blow out’ the fire of ignorance and desire…” (Eckel 2005, p.195-6)

18 18 Religion Islam: “…is based on the fundamental notion of the imperfection of human life. “Verily, we have created man into a life of pain, toil and trial” (Qur’an 90:4). Humans are on this Earth so that their faith in God be tested. A test necessarily requires calamities and misfortunes.” (Haq 2002)

19 19 Religion Christianity: “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18 NIV) and furthermore, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)

20 20 Religion Hinduism: “Hinduism adopts a rather different approach to suffering based on Karma (a sort of tally of good and bad that is carried across reincarnations), which Hindus consider accounts for why the seemingly innocent suffer” 1 (see Narayanan 2005). 1 Glenn Hoddle, the ex-England football manager adopted very similar beliefs in relation to his thoughts concerning disability (see The Independent on Sunday: 31.1.99 available at: However, Glenn Hoddle is an evangelical Christian not a

21 21 Religion Sikhism & Judaism: Sikhism is associated with a great emphasis on being active in the relief of suffering (Thompson 2007), almost as though suffering needs to exist so that a Sikh can demonstrate relief of suffering. Similar to this is Judaism which sees suffering as a test of God, whether that be in the Book of Job or as manifest in the Holocaust (Thompson 2007).

22 22 Religion More on Taoism: “Taoism deals extensively with suffering, but it focuses more on the cures than the problems, and it does so in a lighthearted way. It is almost as if the author of the Tao Te Ching knew that to take suffering too seriously will only entrap one even more deeply in suffering. A light, delicate touch is needed. It is the way of acceptance and detachment.” (Slabbert 2001, see also Lao Tzu uk/2005)

23 23 Religion Shintoism: “The sufferings of life are the sufferings of the divine spirit in search of progress in the objective world.” (Mason 2002) …so suffering is not the fault of the individual, but of an outside causality.

24 24 Religion(?) One secular commentary on religion: “If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering then our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world: for it is absurd to suppose that the endless affliction of which the world is everywhere full, and which arises out of the need and distress pertaining essentially to life, should be purposeless and purely accidental. Each individual misfortune, to be sure, seems an exceptional occurrence; but misfortune in general is the rule.” Schopenhauer (1850/2004, p.3)

25 25 So what does common sense (another Aristotelian concept) tell us about positive outcomes after trauma?  It may be common sense not to take notice of the media, but the media does gives us clues  How would you rate Simon Weston for PTG?  Common Sense tells us he has been through a traumatic experience, we read however that despite suffering, he is internationally respected – how come? Paradox?

26 26 Is PTG really a paradox then ?  Not really, it is our perspective that is paradoxical  We expect (fervently) one thing to be right……yet it isn’t  We would have expected Simon Weston to have been miserable, to hide himself away, be depressed and so on…  But he is incredibly cheerful, positive, dynamic and has fervently committed himself to his charities  He has a new role in life, one that without trauma he couldn’t have had  Have you ever wondered why there are so many self help groups?

27 27 Learning about PTG through paradox Probably the first paradox is, that what amounts to PTG, has been recorded since ancient times and yet it is a very recent ‘discovery’ in the psychological literature

28 28 PTG and paradoxes galore…  Loss seems to produce something of value  Vulnerability makes for strength  Facing one’s own mortality through traumatic experiences leads to an increased sense of personal capacities to survive and prevail  When choices are severely limited it is possible to discover the vastness of humaneness from the best to the worst in others  Events that estrange us from everyone, lead to forging the strongest of relations

29 29 PTG and paradoxes galore…  Survival focuses the mind on death and life  Previously important things are considered less so, and vice versa  Religious, spiritual and existential philosophy changes occur amongst those who were sceptical (Cat Stevens becomes Yusuf Islam)  Shattered philosophies result in more meaningful philosophies  PTG doesn’t necessarily result in less emotional distress (reverse paradox)

30 30 Focus on the struggle rather than the trauma My Trauma… Your Client The Incredible story of how psychotherapy changed my life Ann Other

31 31 Thank you for listening Acknowledgements for ongoing research into: post RTA, post EMDR, PTG being conducted at the University of Birmingham: Dr. Derek Farrell Professor Collette Clifford Simon Weston Dr. Alexandra Button Relevant presentations can be downloaded

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