How Can We Help Our Clients Grow after a Traumatic Event?

Trauma changes people.

And for someone who just wants life to return to “the way it was,” this can be difficult to accept.

But in some cases, people have not only been able to bounce back following trauma, they’ve also been able to experience growth.

In the video below, researcher and author Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD offers her insights into what contributes to post-traumatic growth.

Take a look – it’s just about 4 minutes.

This video was taken from the Next Level Practitioner training program where members receive a daily video full of practical insights from one of the top 25 experts in our field. That program is not open for new members right now, but if you want to be on a waiting list in case it opens up, please click here.

How will you use these ideas in your work? Please leave us your thoughts in the comment box right below.

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165 Comments

  1. I work with clients who have experienced trauma and I am a trauma survivor. I’ve chronicled my own journey in my new memoir, “An Imperfect Pilgrim: Trauma and Healing on This Side of the Rainbow”. What I have discovered–and use with my clients–is mind-body practices that help keep us present, breathing practices that help improve parasympathetic activity, and practicing self-care and self-compassion. All these practices have helped me not only return to a state of happiness, but have increased my own level of happiness and joy.

  2. A friend shared this video with me and I thank you for giving me a catch-phrase for my growth! I am one of these individuals who have experienced post-traumatic growth. I have a C-PTSD diagnosis, after experiencing multiple traumas throughout my childhood and into my adulthood (sexual molestations, rape, bank robbery, murder, alcoholic parent, abusive parent, and more), resulting in severe panic attacks for over 25 years. I finally found EMDR therapy in 2013 and am still processing my traumatic events 4 years later. However, I am the happiest person I know. I live a life of joy and tranquility. Yes, I experience down days and irritable moments, as all humans do, but my overall state of being is one of peace. And I never thought that would be possible. I meditate, do yoga, take nature hikes, read everything I can on brain plasticity and habitual patterns, journal, am writing a book, speak publicly at events such as The National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, produce and co-host The Healing Place Podcast on iTunes with a therapist friend, run the Sammie’s Bags of Hope project dispersing bags filled with “trinkets of hope” to children our therapy dog, Sammie the Labradoodle, works with in a Registered Therapy Dog role (www.sammiethedoodle.com), wrote a children’s book “The Doodle with the Noodle”, own and operate my own business (InvizaShield) and am mom to 3 amazing kids with my partner.

    Thank you for your work in helping those of us who strive to not only overcome our trauma history, but to thrive. My secret formula comes down to two factors . . . faith and positivity. By faith, I am not talking religion. I am talking about believing in something. Anything. But, believing that joy is possible. Believing in love, in angels, in trees, in light, in unicorns, or oneself. And positivity speaks for itself. I learned to treat myself in a gentle manner, with love and kindness. My foundation of faith and positivity helped me survive my hell on earth. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

    Take care and peace to you,
    Teri

    • JB says:

      Thank you for sharing your story of hope and joy.

    • J. Dragon says:

      Thank you so much for your words and energy of power and resiliency!

  3. I worked with a woman in her 40’s whose father was very ill; she could not accept that he would soon die (a matter of months), and kept thinking of “cures” that would not work. She was not married and had no children, and had returned to living with her parents; she was closer to her father than to her mother. We worked for quite a while on death being a part of life, on the good things she would remember about her father, and her other feelings about herself and her family; by the end, she could tell her father that she loved him but she could let him go where he needed to go. He had told her he wanted to die, and she listened. I affirmed that this was a a great gift she could give him. I think that by facing her traumatic reality, rather than staying in denial, she was able to grow, and to acknowledge both her own feelings and those of her father — and I think this change became a lasting part of her sense of self.

    • Rachel says:

      Well done brilliant work! My late Father was calling out to carers in his nursing home for months that “I am going to die today”. They wrongly told him “no you are not Dr X, you are fine”.. His real communication, which they failed to realise was “I WANT to die today”. It was only when I recognised this and told him we were ready to let him go” that he was able to die peacefully 10 days later. He had been concerned to save us the pain of losing him but the price he was paying for this was too high. Moral: listen carefully for what people are really saying, false reassurance is abusive.

  4. Wendy Robinson, Social Worker, Cape Town, South Africa says:

    I usually get a client to look at the positive things that have come out of the traumatic experience – help them to mourn their losses caused by the trauma and focus on what they still have, the qualities and skills that they can develop and the experience they have gained, and ways of protecting themselves against a recurrence of a similar trauma, when appropriate. I introduce them to ways of keeping in the present, keeping a journal and different breathing exercises which help to centre themselves when they feel out of control.

  5. Loretta Root says:

    Ummmm, I’m a survivor of an alcoholic, violent pedophile father who was an equal-opportunity pedophile – equally likely to engage the neighbor kids in his deviancy as to do it to his own daughters alone. I’m not a medical professional, but came across your postings and “subscribed” in order to figure out how to work through my issues on my own. For perspective, I’m 60 y.o.; my father died last year when he was 95 y.o., and he never subsided from being, nor apologized for’ his sexual offenses toward his family and neighboring children.

    While I’m interested in seeing what/how you train other psych practitioners in their work with people such as I, I’m not really in a position to pay for classes much less have the background to comprehend the nuances of the lectures. While I have a substantial medical understanding (by virtue of reading medical journals from the age of 12 to the prsent), my layman’s expertise in psych is minimal.

  6. Renae Ogle says:

    I work with combat veterans and women with MST related PTSD. I’m a survivor of domestic violence and early childhood parental Lias myself. My own journey of loss and trauma and coming back to go beyond my original self serves as my model. By that I mean I know it can be done so I present a very positive model. As a social worker and One who survived her own depression by being validated, that is sort of where I begin. There are some who seem to be in denial that the trauma has impacted them, there are others who embrace that effect. First off I find the process to be extremely subjective that is to say no two going to respond in the same way. I am an EMDR trained therapist, however I find that professional use of self is extremely valuable to me. So there is a presence that I bring that honors and validates them that I think is helpful beyond measure. Lately I have been embracing the presence or mindfulness model more and more. I do think the EMDR processing of the trauma is or can be in some cases quite Healing, but there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all.

  7. Rama Bassham says:

    I work with teens and find that many of them retain the mental flexibility to understand how to incorporate a new story for themselves regarding traumatic events. They often want to move on, since they are still developing rapidly, but don’t know how to do it. With help, they can learn to make meaning out of the trauma and ultimately increase their resiliency. The challenge is sufficient time and consistency, while other areas of their lives remain stable.

  8. Thank you. I find that clients who are recovering from trauma display a degree of resilience especially when there is meaning in their life. Often this meaning is in reaching out to others who have experienced trauma either by spoken word, blogs or support groups.

  9. We must also take into account the person’s life before the traumatic event. Someone who has experienced trauma as an adult will possibly recover and experience growth more readily than someone who has had early trauma, whose journey/recovery might be slower. Nevertheless I do believe based on my experience that growth is always a goal andpossible.

  10. Marta Luzim says:

    Life is not an either or, it is an and. For Trauma survivors it is a process of resilience and growth. It is a journey. It is an and. As long as one shows up and stays on the journey, goes at ones own pace, they are resilient. Even if depression and anxiety occur.
    As a practitioner of trauma and as a survivor myself, the recovery process is about wisdom, creative and spiritual choices not necessarily happiness. It is learning to build an emotional soul and body and receive all of life. Happiness is a feeling like all feelings. It comes and goes. It is being able to choose a lifestyle that supports self care, self love and self respect. Happiness is a simplistic conversation about resilience. I am sure those who are happier or wiser after trauma, but still have very challenging days when they are not so happy. Gratitude for life, joy for life can still be alive in ones body even if there is pain or even depression.

    Recovery from trauma is messy, clumsy, emotional and creative There are a myriad of modalities, techniques and processes that address trauma and recovery. It is an ongoing discover. Recovery from trauma is an individuation process of grief….Sandra Ray, a rebirthing teacher said, “When you begin to receive love everything but love comes up first.” That is what I believe is happening in the collective unconscious globally. We have been praying, healing and processing our trauma historical, personally and biblically since the beginning of time. We are in the process of humanizing our heart, minds and souls. Those who can be resilient are those who can have the blind faith to believe in love and healing. To keep going. To hold pain and joy. To give and receive. Right now our world is in a healing crisis. The dark night of the soul. Every survivor goes through a dark night. A questioning of their faith. It is the journey that has the power…. At the same time no one has the blue prints for the destiny of any human being. Those who cannot make it.. like my sister who committed suicide, has a destiny that I or no one can understand. Recovery and trauma is a mystery in G-d’s plan. How do we understand terrorism, racism, sexism, abuse and addiction to its core? Why do we hate? There is no real psychological answer. And there are many psychological answers. At the highest it is a mystical and universal story of becoming human. However, what I do know is being human is the most spiritual journey there is. It is an evolutionary and revolutionary process to become human. Human kind continues to indulge in genocide, fascism, and resides in power and control. As Ram Dass says, The most I can do is work on myself.” In Judaism, and I paraphrase, it is taught that when each individual learns to love and heal peace will prevail within and without. Until then we are in the Olam Tikkum the piecing together of the broken and wounded light. Each of us are at different levels of recovery. To talk about trauma, personally, globally and universally I believe we need to start piecing together and connecting the dots. Go deeper into the genetics, epigentics and cells of recovery. I might be on a soap box right now… and seemingly off topic.. but I don’t believe I am. It is such a complexity and contradiction why one person is happier after trauma than another.

    • Rachel says:

      Any childhood abuse or neglect is Soul Murder. The child is deprived of her/his identity and ability to experience joy in life. The great Psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold calls it this and claimed sufferers’ lives are ravaged. One cannot recover one’s soul alone. Many do not know of their traumas they are buried in their unconscious. They just know they are not happy and life is a challenge. Anyone abused, their life path has been altered forever regardless of any recovery although he acknowledges that if survived, the pain can be a source of strength. Leonard Shengold MD “Soul Murder, the Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation”. Yale University Press 1989. “Soul Murder is a work of great intellectual rigour and moral beauty” Janet Malcolm.

  11. Heart Assisted Therapy (John Diepold) works very good also in such cases.

  12. 18 years ago in the rural area in which I live there was a very impactful youth suicide. It was the first time the human service sector had mounted a response. Then other deaths occurred and there were questions about whether the response had played a part in the next deaths. My consultancy was asked to evaluate that response.
    One recommendation – to provide a process for recovery from trauma – was handed back to us.
    We developed a small group program we called Leading from Within – based on the idea that growth can come from trauma and with a desire to change the negative ripple impact from the deaths into a positive ripple.
    The program has just been evaluated by the University of Melbourne with very positive outcomes. The evaluation has underlined that the opportunities given for growth have been substantial. The inspiration people gained from each other in the groups assisted, and all of those who were interviewed acknowledged, the positive developments in their lives.
    The participants in our program become mentors embedded within their community and are able to support and inspire others with similar traumatic experiences.
    It is a central tenet in my work with people who have experienced trauma, to see within the difficult and traumatic experiences, opportunities for considerable growth. It’s actually exciting to see people who are open to these possibilities and my experience is that most are.
    At the time we developed the program there was not as much about the idea of Post Traumatic Growth. It’s exciting to me that there is a developing body of research about this now. There was not much known about the neuroscience of trauma then either. We have added a considerable component of Psycho-education to the program over the last 7 years. We’ve just received funding to update our website and this will be added.
    I really appreciated the comments in this video and the references to other research. Thank you.

  13. Fiona says:

    Once you experience trauma it awakens you to your humanity. It reminds
    us that trauma is not what happens to others . Trauma is
    a possibility for us all. Trauma is a subjective personal experience which happens. It is not weakness but
    the nervous system adaptive processing breaking down.

    Trauma survivors can grow and use their experience to care more compassionately for others when they find meaning in their suffering.

    Fiona

    • Rachel says:

      Trauma is not subjective. Sexual abuse or assault, threats to one’s life, child neglect even if very subtle and committed over time on a drip drip basis and experiences where there is no escape from the trauma being dealt out by others will murder the soul regardless of a person’s resilience.
      Trauma destroys people’s humanity. The normal reaction is to then discharge the distress by committing the same trauma one has experienced against others. Hence the cycle of crimes against humanity is continued. One example on a large scale is the trauma of the Jewish Holicaust becoming Zionism which murders and tortures Palestinians. This is a factual comment not a racist one. Non Zionist Jews I have lived and worked with all my life and have found much to admire in their conduct and faith. Zionist I have met are extremely paranoid to a degree it is almost impossible to comprehend. Trauma survivors when treated if they survive psychically can then I agree be compassionate with others etc.

  14. Rachel says:

    Erica Merrit: the unconscious has no sense of time which is why you felt st in
    the past. We have to make friends with our unconscious and understand how it sabotaged our lives
    by allowing all the traumas of our lives to live with us in
    the present. All of the cells in the body physically carry out traumas until we get help for them. This is why psychotherapy is becoming much more body work oriented – the Central Nervous System cannot distinguish between the physical and the emotional. Descartes was wrong. The mind body paradigm has moved on.
    I agree with comment below that the vides presentation told us nothing at all.

  15. Erica Merritt says:

    I can only speak from personal experience. I grew up with a lot of violence and was an adult of almost 40 before I started to see the violence as violence and started to feel how it had negatively affected me… Some mental health professionals started to tell me to look at trauma and one told me I needed to get trauma treatment.
    Soon after that I was living in Nepal for the major earthquake that happened here two years ago and the extremely difficult year that followed here. Because there was a major disaster here.. all these trauma modalities came here with the aid work etc. I started to learn about trauma and how it affects that brain, symptoms etc. I started to recognise a lot of the signs. I learned that so many behaviour patterns of mine that I didn’t like and wanted to change were actually normal for someone who had my childhood. You could say that I was normal for my life experience. That was actually quite liberating. I stopped focusing on the patterns and focused more on being kind to myself.
    I have been learning a lot about trauma for the last two years in other ways. I sense that I became stuck in the traumatic experiences of my childhood, my body was reacting as if time stood still, as if I am still in the situation of my childhood, but I have watched Nepal, the land, the people, the country slowly recover, slowly rebuild and it is life in progress, life in motion. I have witnessed major trauma AND recovery. There is movement. There is a continued motion, not a stopping, not a stuckness.
    I have also recently taken in two kittens and I watch them get beaten up by a local stray cat from time to time. I can feel traumatised and don’t want them to ever go back out. But they bounce back and want to go out the next day. They are weary but they keep going out there.. and as the get older it seems to happen less and less.

  16. Thank you.

  17. peter says:

    A passage from Jac O’Keeffe”trauma… go see someone and get it out, find a way to heal that old
    garbage … Everything that is in your system that is
    protecting you because of your story, is only a trick of the ego to keep
    the sense of I alive(the story alive)… Trauma will bring you out of
    pure consciousness. It is never necessary to leave pure consciousness to protect
    yourself. There is only this exquisite pure consciousness, the rest is
    bullshit that you are running. Trauma becomes a back up plan for the mind to
    survive. WHAT WAS IT THAT PULLED US OUT SO QUICKLY? Take note of it and work on it. THE THINGS THAT
    PULL US OUT, they are movie MAKING MATERIAL FOR YOU to refer to that
    we do not even have to think about BECAUSE TRAUMA IS SOMETHING THAT WILL COME
    IN FROM A PRIMITIVE PART OF YOUR MIND QUICKLY…shovel the conditioning
    out.”

  18. I believe all adversity we meet in life offers us an opportunity for growth—or the opposite, if one is so inclined.
    I also believe it comes out of making meaning of the experience and seeing choice.

  19. Andy Hahn says:

    I think there is a profound correlation between meaning, happiness and Trauma resolution. We had a client that had a terrible accident and had hurt her back so badly that she could barely sit for more than a couple of minutes. When we did are diagnostic we found out that she was stuck in a story of betrayal that, if you believe in other lifetimes originated 2000 years ago. We discovered that she was a general who had agreed to fight another General as opposed to having their two armies fight. She felt nonchalant and arrogant about this as the general. Because of this, she lost the fight was pushed over and was stabbed in the back. Her dying thought was that she had betrayed her people.

    The story of her trauma in this lifetime was that she was supposed to be watching a group of children. She was sort of nonchalant about her responsibilities and looked up and saw that one of the Children looked like he was in danger of drowning. She raced in after him, got knocked over by a wave, and hit her back on a rock. She had been basically incapacitated ever since. When she found the story of her betrayal and resolved it she felt a new sense of lightness and meaning and her story explains so much that had happened in her life. Also, she sat down because she was tired after our session and started talking with the people were at the demonstration. After over an hour, she realized all of her back pain had gone away. I kept in touch with this woman and she had had no back pain up to a month later.

    • Dee says:

      I have also found that (past) life regression has helped many with emotional and physical pain
      Like the work of Brian Weiss & Dolores Canon. It is important to have the mind, body, soul connection.

      Many have lived thru trauma and horror. I’m glad there are so many modalities and methods to help the individual. I enjoy learning new ways to help

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