In the wake of the pandemic, you may have heard the term “Post Traumatic Growth” bounced around in the media. But what, exactly, is this theory, and is it applicable to COVID-19?

What is Post Traumatic Growth?

Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is a psychological theory that defines a period of positive emotional change following an adverse event. This theory was first explored in the 1990s by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Laurence Calhoun. In their article from 2009, they developed a Post Traumatic Growth Inventory that characterized five main areas of change, or “growth”:

  1. Appreciation of life
  2. Relationship with others
  3. New possibilities in life
  4. Personal strength
  5. Spiritual change

But what makes these traits different from, say, resilience, or the ability to “bounce back” during periods of great stress or adversity? Tedeschi and Calhoun hold that resilience and PTG are completely separate constructs.

Resilience, they state, is a trait held by an individual before any traumatic events occur. In other words, it is a quality that exists regardless of whether or not someone endures hardship.

PTG, on the other hand, most often presents after a traumatic event and involves a shift in perception and core beliefs.

Who Can Experience Post Traumatic Growth?

While PTG is not definitively linked to any one type of trauma or person, the current literature suggests that there are some predisposing factors that can increase the likelihood that an individual will experience PTG. For example, a 2007 review found that individuals with intrinsic religiousness were more likely to undergo post-traumatic growth in times of distress.

Another study examined patients 13 years after they had suffered a traumatic brain injury. This correlated with the religious factor and also suggested that a “high level of purpose” was predictive of PTG.

PTG and COVID-19

PTG, as it pertains to the global pandemic, is a topic of ongoing interest. Psychological implications in the wake of a widespread illness were previously examined by Taha et al in 2009 following the H1N1 virus.

However, a 2020 study focusing on positive mental health outcomes specifically in nurses argued that the COVID-19 pandemic may be classified as a brand new type of “mass trauma.”

Another recent study in 2021 discusses potential psychological consequences in the general population, citing unprecedented death toll and economic crises as sources of trauma.

This research suggests that the COVID-10 pandemic may, indeed, be a relevant scenario in which to explore Post Traumatic Growth in many individuals. It is important to understand, however, that PTG is not a sudden shift, but an ongoing process of self re-evaluation. This will require support and facilitation by a qualified mental health provider.

The Crane Center is open and accepting new patients. If you are experiencing high levels of anxiety or stress due to the pandemic, you are not alone, and we are here to help. Contact our office to schedule your consultation.