Resilience and Post-traumatic Growth when Healing from Trauma

Original Publishing Date:
November 2, 2023
Last Update:
November 3, 2023

Resilience and post-traumatic growth are two interconnected concepts that shed light on the human capacity to overcome adversity and the ability to find strength, meaning, and personal growth following an adverse or traumatic experience.

Before diving deeper into the topics of resilience, trauma recovery, and post-traumatic growth, let’s do a quick review on trauma and the impacts of traumatic experiences. Trauma refers to any dangerous, violent or disturbing event or experience where an individual is the witness or victim. Traumatic events overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope and results in feeling unsafe, threatened, or helpless. Complex trauma is defined as multiple traumatic events or prolonged periods of distress. Trauma can have a wide range of psychological, emotional, physical, and interpersonal impacts on individuals, both in the short term and long term. If you’re interested in learning more about the impacts of trauma you can refer to my previous article.

The role of resilience in trauma recovery and healing

Resilience is essential for trauma recovery and facilitates the emergence of growth and healing. Resilience focuses on the ability to bounce back from setbacks and assists in navigating the negative impacts of trauma. Some of the key components of resilience include: self-efficacy, autonomy, commitment, connectedness, and recognition of the ability to realize one's intellectual and emotional potential, or a growth mindset. So how do you develop resilience in order to heal from trauma[1]

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Risk and Protective Factors for trauma

Risk and protective factors can have a large impact on how well one adapts and responds to stressors. Protective factors promote resilience and facilitate the journey towards healing and post-traumatic growth while risk factors cause additional stress. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, some of these risk and protective factors when recovering from trauma include, the severity of the event, the proximity to the event, caregivers reactions, a prior history of trauma, and family and community factors [2]. Below are some examples of risk and protective factors related to trauma recovery and healing

Examples of risk factors:

  • Your primary caregiver is abusive and your other caregiver(s) are often physically and emotionally absent due to working multiple jobs to reduce the families financial stress
  • Your brother was shot and killed. The location he was shot at is right outside of your house which located in a dangerous neighborhood with a lack of resources to improve public safety

Examples of protective factors:

  • You were shocked to hear that your parents were getting a divorce since you never saw them fight. Both parents provided you with emotional support and resources, such as therapist/family therapist, throughout the transition of their divorce
  • Your father passed away at a young age, but your grandfather, uncle’s, coaches, and other male figures quickly jumped in to fill your father’s role. Your mother eventually remarried and you were adopted by your stepfather who you share a great relationship with

Fortunately for all humans, resilience is a learned trait. Although the factors for each person and situation vary, there is an opportunity for everyone to learn resilience to assist in recovery from trauma. It is a dynamic process that can be cultivated and strengthened. If your environment holds more risk than protective factors, don’t fret!  A therapist can help you strengthen your traits of resilience by:

  • Providing a safe space to process your emotions and experiences
  • Teaching you skills that help identify, challenge and correct negative thoughts and beliefs that could contribute to a fixed mindset
  • Identifying your strengths and how your strengths can be used to cultivate resilience
  • Acting as an accountability partner to help you remain consistent in your trauma recovery

There are also a variety of practices to engage in your day-to-day life that foster resilience such as exercise, mindfulness meditation, practicing gratitude, and building social connections.

How post-traumatic growth fosters healing and trauma recovery

While resilience focuses on the ability to adapt and bounce back from setbacks, including those caused by trauma experiences, post-traumatic growth delves deeper by addressing the long term benefits of bouncing back. Post-traumatic growth refers to the positive psychological changes and personal growth that individuals experience as a result of exercising their resilience in the face of adversity.

It often leads to an increased appreciation for life, enhanced relationships, newly acknowledged personal strengths, and a renewed sense of purpose.

You may also experience a greater sense of gratitude, and empathy for others. Instead of denying the past or being defined by trauma, post-traumatic growth focuses on integrating our traumatic experience into our own personal narrative instead. By integrating this experience into our own personal narrative, it gives us the power to derive motivation and energy from the experience as opposed to feeling weighed down or limited by the experience [3].

EMDR Therapy Effectiveness in Facilitating Healing and Resilience

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a powerful treatment approach that facilitates resilience and healing following acute and prolonged traumatic events. EMDR therapy acknowledges an individual's resilience and ability to overcome adversity. It empowers clients to confront their traumas and their internalized negative beliefs associated with these experiences. How does it work? The process of EMDR therapy involves desensitizing traumatic memories through the use of bilateral stimulation (eye movements). Bilateral stimulation facilitates the brain’s natural ability to process traumatic memories and re-integrate these memories in a more adaptive way. This transformative process promotes a greater understanding of one’s personal strengths, resourcefulness, and capacity to cope with stress. At Chicago Counseling, each of our providers are trained or certified in EMDR therapy protocol. They have utilized this tool to successfully treat multiple individuals suffering with trauma related symptoms. EMDR therapy is effective online or in-person with a noticeable improvement in as little as 8 sessions. If you would like to learn more about EMDR therapy please contact our office with any questions you may have or take a look at our EMDR online page.

Hannah’s story of trauma recovery, A brief example of resilience and post-traumatic growth for healing

Below is a story that represents the powerful and transformative process of resilience and post-traumatic growth for healing…

Hannah grew up in a middle-class family in a small, rural town. She was raised by her parents who have been married for 30 years. Hannah has two siblings who she considers to be very close too. Hannah struggled with bullying throughout her teenage years. She also felt chronically stressed by the pressure put on her to achieve and attend a top university. Volleyball was Hannah’s happy place as a teenager. She found great support in her teammates and fell in love with the competitive nature of the game.

At the age of 21 Hannah experienced a life changing event. Hannah was struck by a vehicle while walking home from class one day on her University’s campus. She suffered some major injuries and it took her almost a year to physically recover from the accident. Along with the physical injuries, Hannah also struggled with symptoms of PTSD following the accident including flashbacks, anxiety, night terrors, and panic attacks. Hannah decided to seek the help of a therapist to work through this horrific and traumatic experience.

Together, Hannah and her therapist utilized EMDR therapy protocol to effectively process and re-integrate her trauma. From engaging in EMDR therapy and her previous resilience building practices, Hannah was able to heal by pulling from her strengths to rewrite the narrative of her traumatic experience and integrate it into her personal story as something positive. Hannah went on to attend med school and become a trauma surgeon. Hannah now feels immense gratitude for being able to help others who find themselves in similar situations that she was once in.

Encountering setbacks and adversity is part of the human experience. At some point, we will all face challenges that force us to channel our resilience and perseverance. This and the conditions we are born into is out of our control. What is in our control is fostering the potential to grow from these things. By reading this article you took a step in that direction by gaining further understanding of the interconnectedness of resilience and post-traumatic growth in healing. Now, you can use this knowledge to inform how you navigate traumatic experiences and setbacks. Identifying interventions, practices and support systems aimed at fostering your ability to adapt, heal and thrive is one of the greatest investments you can make in yourself.

How to get help for trauma and life stress recovery

Our providers at Virtual Therapy Clinic specialize in trauma recovery, helping you build resilience and post-traumatic growth. We are here to support you in healing from adverse life events or current life disturbances. Our licensed therapists and specialists can work with you to develop a personalized plan that suits your life goals and needs.

Book a free consultation

Book a free consultation with our Client Coordinator Specialist for the opportunity to begin your healing journey. Our specialist will listen to your needs and goals and assist you in matching with the right provider and booking your initial appointment. Not ready to book a consultation, but would like more information? Send us an email from our contact page.

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Citations

  1. Srivastava K. (2011). Positive mental health and its relationship with resilience. Industrial psychiatry journal, 20(2), 75–76. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.102469
  2. Peterson, S. (2018). About Childhood Trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/about-child-trauma
  3. Collier, L. (2016, November). Growth after trauma. Monitor on Psychology. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma
Katherine Wheeler, MA, LCPC, EMDR-T

Meet Katherine Wheeler, MA, LPC, EMDR, your guide to healing and growth. Break free from the past, conquer stress, and discover authentic success with Katherine's expertise in trauma recovery, performance stress, and healing. Schedule your free consultation to start your transformative journey today

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