Post traumatic growth

In the post “Using logotherapy to treat PTSD” I described a presentation at the World Congress given by Dr. Steven Southwick about PTSD, filling in for a speaker who could not make it. The next day was his regularly scheduled talk, with a different focus.

Everyone is familiar with the concept of post-traumatic stress. But what about post traumatic growth?

The concept of resilience refers to the capacity to adapt well in face of adversity. It has a multidimensional nature. One can be good at one aspect of resilience and not another and there are mediating factors such as genetics. When a person has resilience, growth takes place.

Post-traumatic growth is marked by a greater appreciation of life and development of personal strengths.

Dr. Southwick illustrated this with the story of a young man named Jerry who stepped on a landmine at the age of 18. Somehow in the midst of the incident the young man heard something saying to him: “Quiet, listen, focus and be calm.” He later asked himself questions: Where is God? Israel is the best place to answer this, he felt.

This young man thought he had dealt with it all reasonably well and he thought he was back to himself. But was he the same old Jerry? The opportunity for activism came to him and even though he had a good job and life was okay, something inside urged him to do it, to get involved.

He got to work banning land mines and this led eventually to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for starting an organization of land mine survivors.

We look at this and wonder: How did he come from being a victim of trauma to a Nobel Peace Prize winner? How did he grow? The answer: Tragic optimism.

This is not the optimism of ignorant bliss. As Dr. Southwick put it, babbling optimists are the bane of existential psychology.

Logotherapy is realistic. It is acquainted with evil but promotes faith.

Accept it as if you’ve chosen it. This applies to whatever life brings you.

Dr. Southwick went on to explain. Your ability to reframe inhibits your alarm center. Know that fear is your friend. It’s there to tell you something is not right. Based on this understanding he teaches his soldiers to cognitively reappraise. This is why effective therapies for PTSD are always exposure therapies.

At this point Dr. Southwick repeated what he had said the previous day about matching vets expertise with their community work. The search for meaning is something active. It rebuilds one’s basic assumptions.

We’ll be helpless until we change our model of man. We say want to merge soma, psyche and spirit but we still treat them as separate entities.

Homeostasis is not the answer. We need to think in terms of allostasis. The body can function to coordinate things and to anticipate. It’s not just regulatory.

Stress is cumulative. We fail to shut down stress. Furthermore we need stress. It tells us to remove ourselves from danger, to take a stand, and to sustain the body in the case of acute injury.

So we need to live with stress and not try to shut it down. Stress is only bad it’s activated too often, for too long.

Our subconscious brain is operating most of the time. We can change this. The subconscious mind is an emotionless database. The subconscious mind is reactive; the conscious mind is proactive.

The pheta range is a hypnotic trance state. When you stress someone it activates that state. Thus we want to go back and know the dialogue going on in the person’s head at that time. When he feels helpless and hopeless everything is a threat.

We can do word plays to reduce the sense of threat:

Replace “but” with “and”
Replace “if” with “when”
Compare “sympathy” and “empathy”
Compare “power” and “force”
Identify what is “true” and what is “truth”
Replace “control” with “manage”
Shift subconscious mind into conscious mind

He ended by saying that the ties that bind exist in how we’re alike. We like to hear how we’re different, but we connect when we find common ground.

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