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Post Traumatic Growth: From Darkness to Light, From Trauma to Growth

March 26, 2024

Marianne Huebner, MS-ATR, Art Therapist 

The most dangerous time for a bird to be alive is at night. The darkest hours become the most vulnerable because that is when predators (snakes, raccoons, opossums, and cats) are most active. A sleeping bird is an easy target and surviving the night is a big deal. For those that make it to see the break of dawn, there is joy. It is believed that a bird’s morning song is a signal to other birds that it has, indeed, survived the night. It rejoices in this gift of another day, sharing this news through delightful melody. Post-traumatic growth is sort of like that.

What is Post-Traumatic Growth?

The term post-traumatic growth (PTG) was first coined in 1996 by Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D., in a paper explaining five positive changes that may occur in people after experiencing traumatic events:1

  • Recognizing personal strength
  • Developing an appreciation for life
  • Experiencing positive changes in relationships with others
  • Being open to new possibilities in life
  • Spiritual change or feeling a deeper connection to a source outside of oneself

Finding Meaning

Tedeschi and Calhoun noted that within each of these changes, was an underlying thread about making meaning out of traumatic experiences. This is not to fall into the old saying that “everything happens for a reason”; rather, it is to ignite the idea that through adverse experiences, each person has the ability to learn something about themselves, others, and the world around them. This also does not deny or minimize personal pain. Instead, post-traumatic growth is intended to acknowledge the pain and reframe some of its impact.

Self-Reflection & Personal Growth

This concept is not necessarily new. In Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, which chronicled his experience and survival as a prisoner in the holocaust, he penned the idea that if a person can find meaning in their experiences, then they can survive just about anything. Frankl used his own suffering as an opportunity for personal growth, wanting to make himself a better human as a result and sharing his experience with others in order to help ease their suffering.

Finding meaning, however, isn’t as easy as flipping a switch on a mindset or sitting for hours in self-reflection. Not every person who experiences a traumatic event experiences post-traumatic growth, but for the 50-67% of people who do, the changes can be lifelong.2

Psychology Today writes that in order to cultivate growth, one must first have space from the event. “It’s nearly impossible to evolve in the middle of a crisis, but reflection in its aftermath can provide a foundation for growth.” Reflection is but one note in the song. While reconciling aspects of the traumatic event and/or symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), one may recognize their own strength and resiliency.

Navigating Resiliency and PTG

Resiliency and PTG, though often interchanged, are actually two different things. Resiliency is a recovery process, or bouncing back from a traumatic experience without experiencing psychological hardship. Resiliency is the ability to utilize resources like social support and coping strategies along with flexibility and optimism to prevent trauma from causing lasting psychological distress.4 In contrast, PTG can occur when someone has a traumatic event that challenges his or her core beliefs causing deep psychological struggle (even a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder), and yet experiences profound personal growth through therapy.3

In its simplest terms, survival is like the bird in the nest who makes it to morning. The bird made it but is still somewhat immobilized by fear. It is just doing what it can from moment to moment. It has survived and is surviving. Resiliency for the bird means lifting its head and taking a look around. PTG means standing on the edge of the nest, singing its song, and then taking flight.

Growth Through Therapeutic Support 

Stepping into a growth mindset such as PTG takes time and is best facilitated by a therapist. In the therapeutic relationship, one will develop skills to practice emotional regulation, receive education around trauma symptoms, learn new ways of coping, and become able to talk about the traumatic event and their impact, as well as explore a narrative that can help the individual harness the power and insight of their experiences.

Healing is possible, and post traumatic growth can provide someone with the song to sing and share with the world all around.


1 What is Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) (2023, January 5).
2 Post Traumatic Growth (2024).
3 American Psychological Association. (2016, November). Growth after Trauma: why are some people more resilient than others and can it be taught?


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Editor’s note: This blog post is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.