Post-traumatic Growth after Stroke or Brain Injury

“The development of character strengths and virtues, along with other personal resources that improve resilience and help restore optimal quality of life.”

No one would ever want to consider a stroke or brain injury as an opportunity for growth, but research shows that some people handle the disability experience better than others. Approximately two-thirds of the people who experience a serious traumatic injury or illness report that several aspects of their lives have been enriched by the experience. How does this happen? Research points to these five key ingredients:

  1. Active participation in rehabilitation
    • Post-traumatic growth begins with active participation in rehabilitation and can continue afterwards as long as the person maintains his or her own rehabilitation program.
    • Periodic return to participate in formal rehabilitation is sometimes necessary to maintain post-traumatic growth.
  2. Development of meaningful goals
    • Goals that are meaningful to the person are crucial because they become the focus of post-traumatic growth.
    • Goals should be challenging and achievable within a reasonable timeframe.
  3. Reintegration to the community as a contributing person
    • Return to the family and broader community as a contributing member can provide healthy challenges that precipitate growth.
    • The respect and admiration of family and community members as the person returns to an active life reinforces the sacrifices and effort required to maintain growth.
  4. Active engagement with family and friends to reestablish roles
    • Resumption of family and community roles should begin as soon as possible on an accommodated basis.
    • The resumption has to be genuine so that it is appreciated by all who are involved.
  5. Active participation in a therapeutic community
    • The professionals and family members and patients with whom the person relates can have a therapeutic or a toxic effect on growth.
    • Regular daily communication with therapeutic community members is crucial.

How does post-traumatic growth differ from post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic growth have a lot in common. In fact, many people who have experienced traumatic onset of their disability initially report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The difference between someone who continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and someone who transitions into post-traumatic growth has to do, in part, with how they work through the traumatic experience. Usually, successful working through involves the person with healthcare professionals such as counselors, physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and others. As the person learns to negotiate with the consequences of the trauma, the post-traumatic stress symptoms usually begin to recede.