From PTSD to Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG)

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together. All things connect.”
-Chief Seattle

Tape two of the the Foundation’s recently released training videos, entitled “Survivors Share the Wisdom Gained from Loss,” shows parents and siblings of passengers who died in crashes featured in the videos describing how their grief was transformed when they began to help others who were grieving similar losses. For many, reaching out to others marks the turning point in their recovery and integration of their losses.

 “We don’t see traumas as good things…but they’re the starting point for people.” – Richard Tedeschi, psychologist at University of North Carolina at Charlotte and pioneer in of the PTG field.

The September/October issue of The Optimist features the research of University of North Carolina at Charlotte psychologists, Tedeschi and Lawrence, both pioneers in a field they are calling post-traumatic growth (PTG). Concerned that most psychologists have traditionally only studied disorders (PTSD) and problems, these men began to conduct studies of people who had overcome difficult setbacks such as paralysis, blindness, or loss of a lifelong partner. They found that many people experienced transformations that could be grouped into five themes: better relationships with others, improved personal strength, heightened spiritual satisfaction, renewed appreciation for life, and a desire to find new possibilities, interests & professional pursuits.

Employee Helpers feel the beneficial effects of helping others:

Foundation research on employees who help survivors of workplace trauma reveals that they, too, feel that helping survivors improves the quality of their lives. When asked the number one thing they have learned from their assignments, the response is nearly always the following: greater appreciation for their own family and friends, along with an increased desire to help all people.

Good News for Survivors and Helpers:

Today, research studies abound on the subject of happiness psychology—i.e., what helps people maintain happiness, live longer, and enjoy productive lives. The value of positive thinking and practicing the “golden rule” is no longer simply ideas repeated by our parents and schoolteachers; science supports their value in shaping our own lives. Researchers who study happiness psychology look at why and how humans flourish with a focus on studying the roots of positive emotions—such as joy, compassion, connection, resilience, and optimism—and have found that trauma often furnishes the reason to make major life-changes.

In the January/February issue of Spirituality and Health, the findings of professor of clinical psychology Dr. Sonja Lyumbomirsky are highlighted, which indicate that the mood boost of helping others promoted a sense of connection and stress reduction, which translates into better health. Further, her findings showed:

  • When patients with chronic pain help others, their pain diminishes.

  • Study participants who pumped iron actually held weights longer if doing so allowed them to raise money for charity versus raising money for themselves.

  • Alcoholics who help others are twice as likely to stay on the wagon.

  • Altruistic teens were more likely to go on to graduate from college and have more successful careers than teens that were more self-focused.

  • Doing good can have as big an impact on your health as eating healthful foods and exercising.

In summary, our survivors and employee helpers who participate in our Foundation research teach us more than how to help others during a post-disaster response based on their experiences and losses—they are also modeling for us how to transform our own life’s losses into improved health and well-being for ourselves as well as the planet