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Post-Traumatic Growth: Responding to Trauma With Resilience

Kim is licensed in mental health and addiction counseling. Her education is in business, counseling, and health administration.

PTSD affects approximately 3.5% of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated 1 in 11 people (9%) will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.

PTSD affects approximately 3.5% of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated 1 in 11 people (9%) will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Responding to Trauma

The normal response to trauma is resilience and growth. Some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in response to trauma. Most people do not. Depression, suicide, anxiety and PTSD are ways some people "break down" after an adverse event. Most people are resilient. After going through a tough time for a while following the trauma, they bounce back – usually within a few months. Some people have a really tough time following the trauma. After a year or so, they not only bounce back to where they were before the trauma, but they also experience post-traumatic growth, through which they get even stronger than before. Their life has more value, meaning, and purpose than it did before.

Public Awareness of PTSD and Trauma

In one sense, it’s good that the public is educated about PTSD and trauma symptoms. A lot of people are helped because they recognize the symptoms and know to get help. The downside of this knowledge is this. What if a person has a traumatic event and begins to think, "Now my whole life is ruined, and I’ll never recover?" That knowledge becomes self-fulfilling and can lead to worsening symptoms and even create symptoms that might not have occurred.

Knowing that it’s normal to cry or feel depressed or experience some anxiety after a traumatic event, a person will more likely experience resilience and growth. Likewise, if a person knows that many people experience growth and opportunity after a trauma, he or she is more likely to be aware of and prepared for growth opportunities when they present. On the contrary, believing that his life is ruined and he is permanently damaged keeps him debilitated and unresponsive when opportunities do occur.

PTSD and the Army

Depression, suicide, anxiety and PTSD affect one-fifth of the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. These conditions do not affect the remaining four-fifths of the soldiers. While there may be some biological and genetic differences in those who develop PTSD and those who do not, for the most part, resilience, our ability to bounce back, is learned. Often it is learned from past adverse events. Confidence that one can overcome adversity comes from past experiences of having overcome adversity.

Army Basic Training used to be thought of as a way of weeding out those who were not physically and mentally strong. Drill sergeants stood screaming nose to nose with new recruits, calling them numb nuts and piss ants and ordering 20 push-ups for unshined boots. The astute recruit thanked the drill sergeant and asked for more push-ups. When a recruit completed Basic Training, he or she was certified "Army Strong."

Resiliency Training in the Army

Now, due to increased rates of suicide, PTSD, divorce and substance abuse, drill sergeants are receiving resiliency training and teaching resiliency skills to new recruits. Many soldiers are on their third or fourth deployment, and the stress of these extended periods away from family and in combat situations over a period of 10 to 20 years is taking a toll. Seasoned soldiers and their family members are also taking resiliency training classes to help them prepare for and cope with repeated deployments. Every soldier is now receiving resiliency training.

It is hoped that resiliency training will prevent some soldiers and their families from developing problems and help them recover if problems do arise. There is currently no evidence that the training will increase resilience or prevent symptoms. When the training is complete, it will be known whether resiliency or mental toughness can be taught in a classroom and whether resiliency training can prevent or reduce trauma symptoms. Similar types of training have been used in parenting classes and in schools. We may now be better able to assess their effectiveness in preventing and reducing trauma symptoms related to childhood trauma. The findings may also have implications for corporate training in resiliency.

Positive Psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Concepts in Resiliency Training

The training is based on the lifelong work of Dr. Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology and author of Flourish, a book about well-being. He modified his work to meet the specific needs of the military. Dr. Seligman identifies the building blocks of resilience and growth as PERMA, an acronym for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. The hallmark of Dr. Seligman’s work is that too much attention has been paid in clinical training for mental health practitioners on identifying and correcting a problem – what is wrong – rather than identifying and building on strengths, or what is right.

The training also includes some cognitive behavioral concepts that reinforce the idea that it is not so much what happens but rather our thoughts about what happens that lead to our emotional and behavioral reactions to adversity. Some common thinking traps are identified and corrected. For example, the thinking trap of "always, always, always" leads to the belief that a problem is unchangeable and that one is helpless to do anything about it. Being able to identify what can and cannot be controlled and taking control of what can be controlled are alternatives to a helpless response of doing nothing and believing that a painful experience will last forever.

Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum and Resiliency Training

The resiliency training program has been implemented under the direction of Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, a flight surgeon whose helicopter was shot down over Iraq. When she awoke and learned that she was still alive, she perceived her situation as positive compared with her original belief that she would surely die. While held captive for eight days she was sexually molested repeatedly by her captors. She refused to be defeated or "haunted" by her experience. In the video link below, General Cornum describes how important it is to have resiliency skills before they are needed and that these skills can be learned.


American Psychiatric Association. What is post traumatic stress disorder? 2020. Retrieved from

Casey GW Jr. Comprehensive soldier fitness: a vision for psychological resilience in the U.S. Army. Am Psychol. 2011 Jan;66(1):1-3. doi: 10.1037/a0021930. PMID: 21219041.

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Read More From Remedygrove

Cornum R, Matthews MD, Seligman ME. Comprehensive soldier fitness: building resilience in a challenging institutional context. Am Psychol. 2011 Jan;66(1):4-9. doi: 10.1037/a0021420. PMID: 21219042.

Reivich KJ, Seligman ME, McBride S. Master resilience training in the U.S. Army. Am Psychol. 2011 Jan;66(1):25-34. doi: 10.1037/a0021897. PMID: 21219045.

Rhonda Cornum's Story

University of Pennsylvania School of Arts & Scientces, Positive Psychology Center: Penn resilience program and perma workshops. Retrieved from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2011 Kim Harris


Kim Harris (author) on January 09, 2012:

Thanks John:)

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on January 09, 2012:

Great hub - very informative...

Mott-StenersonPhD on December 30, 2011:

Thanks so much for the advice Kim039! I'll work on that and let you know. Happy New Year!

Kim Harris (author) on December 30, 2011:

Seeking Safety just requires purchase of the manual - not so much a package as 7 challenges. I like it for groups. it's very structured. I like your idea for a hub....and you could do one of those Best Reviewer posts on 10 best and 10 worst PTSD self help books with a link back to your hub. ( ) although best reviewer is part of - which now charges to join. Anyway. I think that would be very useful in that it gives hope for recovery and can help people get to the help they need quicker. of course, something might work for someone else that you didn't find helpful at the time. still you can offer your personal and/or professional opinion about it and start some discussion. let me know when you publish it. i'll read it:)

Mott-StenersonPhD on December 30, 2011:

Seeking Safety looks interesting, perhaps more of a "package" you can buy to provide services to individuals under that clinician model. I am more interested in it from the patient experience side.

I do think the "Seeking Safety" approach is a good one. It appears that patients learn cognitive and physical coping skills, such as EMDR alongside of the cognitive processing therapy. In other words, the two go hand in hand and deliver a synergistic outcome. From my personal experience over the last 21 years of ongoing recovery work, it is the "multi-modal approach" to recovery which makes it an effective outcome for the patient.

Perhaps I should write a hub on treatment efficacy from a patient perspective. I have studied psychology and utilized self help books since I was 16(I'm 50 now), and have tried a zillion things, some more effective than others. Do you think anyone would be interested in that as a hub?

Kim Harris (author) on December 29, 2011:

You're making a really good point about being at different points on the curve at different times in life, and that there is not necessarily one traumatic event, but often several events and re-experiencing the events in memories and dreams. So, it's really a more multi-dimensional bell curve! Thanks Mott- StenersonPhD - for reading, commenting and contributing some good insights to the discussion.

I recently came across some research showing that cognitive processing therapy and EMDR are the treatments of choice, although it was unclear which components of EMDR contributed to its effectiveness. A model I like is Seeking Safety ( for co-occurring PTSD and substance abuse. The emphasis is on coping skills.

Mott-StenersonPhD on December 29, 2011:

As a chronic PTSD sufferer (which began with early childhood abuse and long term neglect), I believe I may have some insight that is relevant to your discussion.

First, I love the "resilience on a bell curve" model - I have never seen that before. As a patient, Post Traumatic Growth gives me hope. More importantly, I have been through this model many times over the years, as events in my life have further traumatized me and deepened my anxiety. I have been in and out of therapy for the last 21 years, but I finally received a definitive diagnosis 3 years ago, which I fully agree with. This model describes what I have had to do many times in my life, and to be honest, I have always come out the other side a recovery a better, stronger person. I feel that this has benefited both of my children greatly, who are extremely resilient.

I also was not aware of resilience training, and I will be ordering some books (any recommendation?).

Finally, I truly appreciate your work! I am always looking for insightful, positive people who have already worked out solutions for my problems. Thanks for doing such a good job of informing us.

P.S. I have been using an excellent therapist for this past year who does EMDR therapy and Reiki energy work during our talk sessions. I have experienced incredible results from this wonderful lady, who is so positive and lively!

Kim Harris (author) on October 22, 2011:

I like that buddy up idea - sounds very healing for both. I often see veterans when they've gotten legal charges related to alcohol use and haven't dealt with their trauma issues. It's nice when they begin to see the connection between their trauma symptoms and their alcohol use, and begin to recover from both. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience femmeflashpoint:)

femmeflashpoint on October 22, 2011:

I'm all for any information that turns a negative into a positive.

I have several friends who are back from deployment, some who are experiencing PTSD and getting treatment from it. The very nice thing about their counseling sessions is that some of the soldiers who've been back longer are assisting with the therapy. They came back having issues, and are well into their recovery, and now they're helping work with the ones who've returned more recently, buddying up with them while they work their way through recovery.

I think it's a wonderful outreach, and both parties benefit.

There's excellent info in this hub and I'll be referring my friends to it because I'm certain they would find the information to be very helpful!

Kim Harris (author) on October 13, 2011:

Thanks RNMSN:) That's powerful feedback. I think it is important to see a problem when there is one - to recognize and own it. I think some people get stuck there in shame and helplessness and hopelessness. It's just as important to find the way to a solution and start taking the first steps toward recovering from the problem and moving into the solution. I do believe hope is eternal too.

Thanks for the positive feedback. I just had another RNMSN inspired hub idea.

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on October 13, 2011:

Your writing is so strong Kim! It delivers the information and positive ways to get beyond the problem! Even the wording of the relief is positive... "Growth"... and the message that it will not only get the person back to before the traumatic event but that the person will then grow stronger! Well done as always!

Kim Harris (author) on October 09, 2011:

Thank you for reading and commenting, thelyricwriter. I think it offers hope to people who have experienced trauma to know that PTSD is not a certainty. Also, most people who do get PTSD can and do recover. When something traumatic happens, it is understandable and completely normal to experience very strong and uncomfortable emotions for awhile. Most of us have the resilience to bounce back. If not, we can learn! It could make a great country song, eh?

Richard Ricky Hale from West Virginia on October 09, 2011:

A very good article you have wrote Kim. I too haven't heard of this and it is good to know a little bit about this now. Very well written and detailed. Take care.

Kim Harris (author) on October 07, 2011:

Thanks Nell Rose. Coping can't hurt and it definitely helps. The greatest gift a parent can give a child is modeling effective coping.

Nell Rose from England on October 07, 2011:

Hi, Kim, this is a good idea, and I believe you are right about learning how to cope, I remember when I had a really traumatic event back in the early nineties, it took me ages to come around, but then again my mum was a very nervous type of person too, interesting article, cheers nell

Kim Harris (author) on October 05, 2011:

Thank you alekhouse. I really appreciate your kind comment:)

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on October 05, 2011:

Thanks, Kim for a really good article...well thought out and intetresting

Kim Harris (author) on October 03, 2011:

So, more like a traumatic stress skills deficit - TSSD! Interesting. I think once a person understands the power of their thoughts, it's difficult not to see the power of thoughts.

I like Gail's word of caution though. I don't want someone to misunderstand and think I'm saying that they have PTSD because they lack skills! I believe we are all different in our vulnerability to PTSD and other disorders, and that there are other factors that contribute to who gets PTSD and who doesn't. Some, we have no control over: genetics, biology, neurology, chemistry, etc. No matter where we start though, our thinking is one thing we can change that will help us feel and act better. And your point, I think, is that recovery requires skill. To think of PTSD as a disorder in some ways makes it seem like it's permanent - which is the opposite of recovery thinking!

Thanks for reading and commenting, Dr Bill. Feel free to elaborate or clarify your meaning, if needed.

Bill Tollefson from Southwest Florida on October 03, 2011:

Awesome HUB article! Recovery from PTSD and trauma I believe to be skill issue rather than a disorder. PTS is a normal reaction to an overwhelming life threatening event. I agree strongly that it is the thoughts after the trauma that determines how a person will heal from their emotional wounds. I especially agree with your statement that a person's thoughts will become a "self fulfilling, and can lead to worsening symptoms". This is why I have written so many HUB articles on the importance of understanding "Thought Addiction" and its relationship to trauma. Very interesting HUB!

Kim Harris (author) on October 03, 2011:

Thanks jenubouka... and thanks for commenting about the books. I don't usually do that many book displays, but there's a good selection. I like the adult resilience handbook, but there's some for families and children as well. I used to use the roots and wings series when I worked with children and families.

jenubouka on October 03, 2011:

I have not heard of this either, very interesting, I really appreciate the books too.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on October 02, 2011:

I thought you did accomplish that. Yeah, I'm up late. Am signing off and going to bed right after this comment. Hope you get a good night's sleep and feel refreshed in the AM.

Kim Harris (author) on October 02, 2011:

You're up late too, Gail:) I hope I accomplished that - recognizing the real challenges of those who do develop PTSD. I was very mindful about that. While pointing out that not everyone gets PTSD, and the problems with assuming that everyone does, I didn't want to alienate or stigmatize those who do. If I didn't make it clear, thanks for making a point of it. I'll re-read with that in mind in the morning when I'm more alert. Good night:)

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on October 02, 2011:

I've never heard the term Post Traumatic Growth before but what you've written here does make sense to me and it was fascinating to see that the army is using resiliency training that is based on the lifelong work of Dr. Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology. It will be interesting to see if the training actually reduces the incidence of PTSD. It surely can't hurt.

I also like the fact that you were careful to recognize the real challenges and difficulties that those who do develop PTSD face and that they can benefit through seeking treatment for their PTSD.

Thanks for sharing this information.

Voted up, useful and interesting.

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