Post-Traumatic Stress’s Surprisingly Positive Flip Sidehttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/post-traumatic-stresss-surprisingly-positive-flip-side.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=magazine
By JIM RENDON (Published: March 22, 2012)
Sgt. Jeffrey Beltran pulled a heavily creased Post-it note from the pocket of his fatigues, unfolded it and looked over a list he jotted down earlier that day: pick up an order of beef lo mein, take his dress uniform to work (jacket, pants and boots), do schoolwork. Beltran’s Army-issue organizer is also filled with these reminders, and he checks them every so often to jog his memory — folding and unfolding them throughout the day. Beltran’s life is filled with sticky notes because his short-term memory is no longer reliable, a result of what the Army calls a mild traumatic brain injury that he suffered in an I.E.D. attack in Iraq in 2005….
…The blast broke Beltran’s knee and leg, fractured his lower spine and buried shrapnel in his thigh; the violent jolt caused his brain injury. He suffered so many wounds that he had to pause in the retelling to make sure he hadn’t left anything out. He underwent 14 operations over the next year. “I was dealing with post-traumatic stress, anger, all the emotions, the ups and downs, the physical, emotional, psychological pain,” he told me. “I was really angry. I wanted to get healed and get back into the fight…”
…Beltran spent years in therapy and read many books about people who surmounted adversity, all of which, he says, helped him change. More recently, through classes and group therapy at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, he was introduced to the science and thinking behind this psychological change. “It’s given it a name,” Beltran said, “and has enhanced my personal development.” The name for Beltran’s change is post-traumatic growth….
…The idea that people grow in positive ways from hardship is so embedded in our culture that few researchers even noticed that it was there to be studied. Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who is both a researcher and a clinician, discovered it in a roundabout way, while he was looking for a new research project. “I thought, Who do I want to know the most about, distressed or violent or crazy people?” he told me. “Instead, I think I want to know about wise people. Perhaps I’ll learn something myself.” He and Lawrence Calhoun, who is also a psychologist at U.N.C., started their research by interviewing survivors of severe injuries. He then went on to survey older people who had lost their spouses. Person after person told them the same thing: they wished deeply that they had not lost a spouse or been paralyzed, but nonetheless, the experience changed them for the better….
…Patterns began to emerge in a follow-up study of more than 600 trauma survivors. People reported positive change in five areas: they had a renewed appreciation for life; they found new possibilities for themselves; they felt more personal strength; their relationships improved; and they felt spiritually more satisfied. Tedeschi developed an inventory to track and measure the phenomenon, and in 1995, he and Calhoun coined the term “post-traumatic growth.” Experiencing growth in the wake of trauma, Tedeschi asserts, is far more common than P.T.S.D. and can even coexist with it….