The theory of post-traumatic growth started to develop in 1996 by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun and since then has helped us observe, describe and understand the mechanisms that lead many people who have experienced deeply traumatic experiences not just to recovery, but to a total transformation of themselves and their lives that has put them back onto a growth trajectory. We have previously explored the significance of trauma in human development; in this article we explain what post-traumatic growth consists of, how it is measured, how it relates to resilience and how it relates to coaching.
Tedeschi and Calhoun have attributed their research findings on the unexpected positive effects of traumatic experiences that many subjects report to changes in their self-perception, changes in their experience and understanding of interpersonal relationships, and changes in their perspectives on life, including new spiritual pursuits. In the scale measuring post-traumatic growth they have designed, positive changes in participants’ lives are reported on 21 criteria/ questions based on the five factors below:
- Relationships to other people
- New opportunities, priorities and life paths
- Appreciation of the value of life – own or others’
- Recognition of one’s strength and
- Spiritual/ existential development
The researchers estimate that about 2/3 of people who suffer traumatic experiences return to a trajectory of post-traumatic growth; furthermore they note that women demonstrate slightly greater growth than men and observe a correlation between the depth of trauma and the extent of post-traumatic growth. Finally, they point to extroversion and being open to experience as predictors of post-traumatic growth.
We can, however, understand Tedeschi and Calhoun’s theory more effectively in relation to resilience, as well as coaching practice:
But what if the traumatic experience is not felt strong enough to cause the above-mentioned state? That’s when resilience is at play.
Therefore a resilient individual does not need to change basic elements of his character in order to return to his normal functioning after a painful experience. (S)he is the individual who has come to know and acknowledge himself/ herself, has strengthened his/ her self-image, and has cultivated beneficial and empowering beliefs on the basis of a well-defined value system; he/ she is the individual who, having enhanced his/ her relationship with himself/ herself, values himself/ herself differently, deeper and more meaningfully and relates to others in the same manner; last but not least it is the individual who fosters curiosity and nourishes his quest with it, who is not afraid to experiment and try new experiences and learn from life with childlike joy and courage.
The research on post-traumatic growth has provided us with valuable insights into the identity and essence of resilience, describing the new, more resilient version of people who have overcome traumatic experiences and, thanks to them, have changed their lives for the better. It has also implicitly affirmed the validity of the deeper purpose of any coaching intervention, reminding coaches of any discipline to focus on the person, whether they are a student, parent, entrepreneur, executive, artist, athlete, politician, public figure, employee or retiree, and highlighting resilience as an essential component of any coaching partnership.
In the constant life process of alternating comfort and challenge we are called upon either to prevent emotional shocks and traumas or to overcome them. Whether we make these necessary changes beforehand or afterwards, science is constantly pointing us to ways in which we can live a life that is meaningful both for ourselves and for the people around us – no matter what happens…