Dr Martin Seligman is a founder of the new field of Positive Psychology, a branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.
“That is a big idea, Dr Seligman, producing more (Positive Traumatic Growth) PTG rather than just focusing on PTSD, and approaching training through our soldiers strengths rather than drilling their weaknesses out of them.” General David Petraeus, US military.
Trauma often sets a stage for growth. The more severe the trauma, the greater the growth. We can teach about the conditions under which growth is most likely to happen. Substantial numbers of people experience intense depression and anxiety after trauma then grow. Long term they’re at a higher level of psychological functioning than before. More intense strengths lead to higher well-being.
The US military and Dr. Seligman have launched a massive resilience and mental health project. They’ve found resilience training reduces depression, anxiety and conduct problems. Testing prior to deployment and/or trauma is like cognitive therapy in a preventative mode and it has shown to reduce PTSD. The four fitness modules are: emotional, family, social, spiritual.
Positive psychology helps people take advantage of their positive emotions by knowing how they work and what they signal. By cultivating positive we’re able to learn, grow and flourish, to become resource builders.
The usual response to high adversity is resilience – a relatively brief period of depression plus anxiety followed by a return to a previous level of functioning.
PTSD is a combination of anxiety and depression. Knowing that bursting into tears a few days after a trauma isn’t a symptom of PTSD but is a symptom of normal grief and mourning helps. It’s usually followed by resilience.
Example from a soldier (MD) with multiple trauma: felt better prepared/could relate as concerns of my patients no longer academic; better equipped to be a leader because I feel less fear/anxiety over challenges that are so much smaller than the abduction; appreciates family (since she came close to dying / losing them), spiritual openness, personal priorities higher.