We have been working to develop information about and interest in the phenomenon of posttraumatic growth (PTG) for several years--in the case of Rich Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, since the early 1980s, and in the case of Crystal Park, since the early 1990s, when she studied religion, coping, and stress-related growth as a graduate student with Lawrence Cohen at the University of Delaware. We have found PTG compelling for various reasons. In our clinical experiences and interviews with research participants, reports of the transformative power of trauma have had a naturally inspiring quality. The paucity of research, together with the ancient themes reflected in the stories of life-changing responses, have suggested that we are looking at a fundamental human experience from a fresh perspective. That these reports are seldom discussed in the research or clinical literature seems to have left traumatologists to conclude that only the most negative outcomes are worthy of our attention. If it is noticed at all, the experience of growth in the aftermath of crisis has been viewed primarily as defensive or illusory. Closer examination of PTG indicates that more than that is going on in many persons who describe this experience. It has been exciting for us to document the phenomenon, devise ways to measure it, and develop theory to explain it. In doing so, we hope we are laying the groundwork for ways to encourage positive change among trauma survivors.
Our goal has been to stimulate both researchers studying trauma, stress, and coping, and clinicians involved in crisis intervention to consider PTG as well as posttraumatic psychological disorders as worthy of attention. We have gathered together a small group of people who have been working on PTG and closely related phenomena, and have asked them to focus on issues of definition and measurement and on the role of individual, situational, and social characteristics in its facilitation. We have also given the contributors an opportunity to suggest theoretical foundations for research and to answer some of the fundamental questions about PTG that remain unexplored. We hope the reader will forgive occasional redundancy that may result because we have asked the contributors to approach the evidence for PTG from various perspectives.
We expect that students of various traumas, including bereavement, physical illness and disability, crime, natural disasters, combat, and social