Post-Traumatic Growth: Is It Possible To Change For The Better After Trauma?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated November 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Post-traumatic growth is regarded by many to be a relatively new subject for the field of psychology. The idea that someone can be positively changed by a difficult life challenge, however, has generally been around for a long time. 

From sources ranging from ancient religious traditions and mythology to literature and philosophy, many of us have likely heard of this idea that we can become better people by going through hardship.

 In this article, we’ll explore post-traumatic growth, what forms it can take, and options for further support.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Moving Forward After Trauma Can Be Painful

What Is Post-Traumatic Growth?

The concept of post-traumatic growth has captured the attention of research psychologists, individual therapists and celebrities interested in positive psychology. 

The Posttraumatic Growth Research Group at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where many believe that the term was coined, defines post-traumatic growth as “a positive change survived as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event”.

Growth Vs. Resilience

People might mistakenly equate post-traumatic growth with resilience, but the two are generally not the same. Resiliency to many means that one can bounce back to normal after a crisis. Post-traumatic growth is generally defined as what can occur when someone who may have difficulty bouncing back experiences trauma—but then finds growth through the struggle. It is regarded by many to be a process that takes time, effort and resiliency. 

Possible Growth Areas In Post-Traumatic Growth

Researchers have identified that improvements tend to occur in five general areas:

Greater Appreciation Of Life

Those who experience post-traumatic growth can become more aware of the value of their own lives and life in general. They may feel this appreciation as an emotion. Many might also show their appreciation for life by giving back to their local or global community. 

A greater appreciation of life can mean experiencing greater joy in small pleasures and everyday life, too. They may spend more time appreciating nature or doing activities that make them happy. Their appreciation of life can also show up in greater interest in the world around them. 

It can also increase their motivation to make the world a better place.

Improved Relationships With Others

Some people who experience post-traumatic growth might develop more satisfying relationships with the ones they care about most. They can also become more socially active and gregarious. 

They may also value their relationships more, possibly prompting them to do what they can to maintain and improve those relationships. The wisdom they've gained through the traumatic experience may also help them with how they interact with others.

Seeing New Possibilities

People who have achieved growth after going through a traumatic event can become more aware of the inherent opportunities in each new experience they encounter later. Because they've experienced something difficult and survived it, they may see what is before them with added clarity and hope. 

Gaining Personal Strength

If you're wondering whether Nietzsche's assertion that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” is true, the answer may be yes for those who experience post-traumatic growth. Those who grow after trauma can experience that growth as a gain in personal power and strength.

Spiritual Change

Have you ever noticed that many people find religion or change from one religion to another following a personal crisis? Some people may become more active in their present religious community or embark on a new spiritual quest after experiencing a crisis. Still, others may leave formal religion altogether to embark on their unique spiritual journey. These changes may come from a profound sense that there is something good in the world that can't be explained easily, and they may desire to connect with it in a deeper way than before.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Measuring Post-Traumatic Growth

Researchers who study post-traumatic growth generally need to be able to identify the signs that it has happened. The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory and other psychological tests can provide them with this information. 

For these tests, the trauma that may or may not have triggered positive change can be ascertained. Then, the subjects may then be tested on their changes in the five growth areas listed above. Scientists can then study the results of these tests, possibly comparing other factors that are different or the same for people who have or have not grown through their trauma.

Who Is Most Likely To Experience Post-Traumatic Growth?

Some people may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth than others. Researchers have found details that that two traits may make some people more likely to have personal growth after trauma. 

These traits are considered by many to be extraversion and openness to experience—or reception. If you have one or both traits, post-traumatic growth may be more likely; however, that doesn't mean that people who don't fall in these groups can't have post-traumatic growth.

Do I Have the Power To Choose Post Traumatic Growth?

A common question for many after learning about post-traumatic growth is “Can I make this happen when I have trauma in my own life?” The answer can be a bit nuanced. Post-traumatic growth is considered by many to be a relatively new subject in psychology at the time of this publication. Questions generally remain about how much control you have over whether you thrive or falter after a traumatic event.

It can be possible that addressing your emotional challenges before trauma happens can help prepare you for growth, possibly increasing one’s reception. You can also work on your social skills so that connections with others happen more naturally for you in the wake of trauma and hardship.  

Additionally, as you face and work on any mental health challenges you might have, you can become mentally stronger even without going through a traumatic experience.

Seeking Help Through Online Therapy

If you are trying to move forward from past trauma, speaking with a therapist can help. While post-traumatic growth is not generally considered to be universal, a therapist can help you work through past trauma and find ways to live well in the wake of your experience. 

Talking about past trauma can often feel very vulnerable and personal, and it may help to be able to talk about it in a space where you feel most safe and at ease. With online therapy, you can meet with a therapist from wherever you have an internet connection and feel most comfortable—whether that’s your home or another safe place. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Moving Forward After Trauma Can Be Painful

Is Online Therapy Effective?

Research has found details that suggest that online therapy can be an effective option for a range of concerns, including those who are working to survive and live well in the wake of trauma. 

For instance, one research study examined the effects of an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy intervention for complicated grief on post-traumatic growth and optimism. It found that “post-traumatic growth increased” in the group that received the internet-based treatment.  


Post-traumatic growth generally refers to the idea that a positive change can occur after a person experiences trauma. Growth might occur in five general areas: greater appreciation of life, improved relationships with others, seeing new possibilities, increased sense of strength and spiritual changes. If you’re looking for support with coping after trauma, online therapy can help. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need. 

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