Post-Traumatic Growth and Service Members

Service members understand that their commitment to serving our country can sometimes be difficult. They expect to spend time away from family, endure stressful situations and may experience traumatic events. For many, healing from trauma can be a long process. However, it is possible to grow and change in positive ways during recovery – a transformative response called post-traumatic growth.

Post-traumatic growth can take months or years to surface and its effects are often the result of sustained effort and support from friends, family and professionals. A recent review of post-traumatic growth research completed by the Military REACH Research and Outreach program outlines how the process can be encouraged for service members and their families.

If you know or work with military families, or play a role in supporting someone who has experienced trauma, learning about post-traumatic growth may be the first step toward helping someone you care about.

What is post-traumatic growth?

Post-traumatic growth is both a process and an outcome.

It is substantive, positive change in a person’s self-perceptions, relationships with others and their personal philosophy of life that can result after a traumatic experience. The basis of post-traumatic growth is rooted in the idea that people can be positively changed by encounters with trauma. Post-traumatic growth is usually achieved through the regular practice of certain techniques.

These techniques include purposeful reflection, working to find meaning, and writing or talking about the experience. Through these activities, people who have experienced trauma may be able to:

  • Improve their appreciation of life
  • Increase closeness and improve relationships with others
  • Embrace new possibilities in life
  • Boost their perception of themselves
  • Experience spiritual change

What post-traumatic growth is not

Post-traumatic growth is not the absence of suffering or stress. Most people experience significant distress during traumatic events. Post-traumatic growth is a psychological development that happens slowly, months or even years after the event. Post-traumatic growth does not happen to everyone who has suffered from trauma, but can be encouraged.

Post-traumatic growth is not the opposite of post-traumatic stress disorder. While both conditions may occur after experiencing trauma, it’s important not to draw parallels between the two. It is possible to experience both conditions at different times, and many people do not experience either condition after a trauma.

Learn more about post-traumatic growth

The Military Families Learning Network has several resources, including new research-informed practices related to both quality of life and supporting military community and family readiness:

Service providers and leaders can also encourage service members to practice mindfulness techniques and make the most of the tools on Military OneSource.