Sunday, March 12, 2023

Post Traumatic Growth in the Aftermath of Covid

by Vanessa Mortillo, LPC

Coming out of the deep freeze of winter and seeing signs of new life, I am struck by nature’s inherent pattern of rebirth after darkness and cold. This feels like a fertile time to reflect on the growth that has occurred in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic presented a sense of freezing of daily functioning; we experienced fear and grief, the threat of death or injury to ourselves and our loved ones, and loss of jobs, celebrations and rituals. As a society, it is undeniable that it presented hardship and led to a seismic shift in how we operate on a daily basis and how we view the world. Like the Spanish Flu of 1918 and World War I and II before it, the pandemic was an experience of collective trauma. When we are in the midst of a trauma, we are focused on getting through it and persevering. Only in its aftermath do we truly have time to reflect on how we have changed.

Trauma and post traumatic growth

Trauma is any event or exposure to an event that threatens serious bodily injury or death. Human beings have a wide range of responses to trauma; some are able to return to homeostasis somewhat quickly, while others may develop mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, intense fear, avoidance, etc.) as a direct result. In the 1990’s two trauma psychologists noticed a phenomenon they referred to as Post Traumatic Growth occurring amongst their patients who experienced significant distress following a trauma. Post Traumatic Growth results when a person grapples internally with an earth-shattering event, and emerges on the other side with lasting positive changes. Tedeschi and Calhoun assert that this type of growth is a direct result of the struggle to come to terms with a life-altering experience and does not occur as deeply for those who bounce back quickly.

Tedeschi also noted that the path to this growth is achieved through the struggle, and not instead of it.  It can be tempting to skip over the painful parts of traumatic experience and try to rush to the positive outcomes. However, fully listening to, holding space for, and processing the pain of trauma is an important step on the path to healing and growth. While the work is difficult, it can bring about positive change. These are the areas of post-traumatic growth they identified:

Depth of Relating to Others: Trauma can test our relationships but also deepen them. It may force us to reach out in ways that result in the reinforcement and expansion of vital support systems.  It can also result in our struggles fostering deeper compassion for others who also struggle.

New Possibilities: Experiencing a major change in your life can leave you reflecting on all of the changes that are possible, the development of new interests, or simply a willingness to make major changes. Often when we are forced to change, we gain new courage to tackle other changes.

Personal Strength: Trauma can help us realize that we can handle more than we thought possible and gain new confidence in our coping and self reliance.

Spiritual Enhancement: Sometimes our most painful and scariest experiences can result in contact with the meaning of life and forces beyond the self. We may have a more profound connection with our spirituality after a trauma than we did before it.

Appreciation: Experiencing loss can lead to deeper appreciation of what we have not lost.

I invite you to reflect on these areas for yourself. How have you changed as a result of the pandemic? Have you noticed growth in any of these areas? You may find it helpful to write about your experience and/or to discuss your responses with a trusted person in your life. While there is a lot that happened during the pandemic that was universal, we also had our own unique experiences and were impacted differently. Similarly, the areas where have grown in the aftermath of trauma will vary from person to person. Reflecting on your growth and sharing that with another person can be a bridge to deeper connection and appreciation of our resiliency.

Vanessa Mortillo, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in play therapy, mindfulness, and expressive arts. She provides a playful space to harness creativity and imagination in the service of growth and healing. Using a strengths-based approach, she builds on what is working well in your life. She has worked with adults and children from a variety of backgrounds in home, school, and outpatient settings and is committed to advancing equity and social justice. She can be reached at 267-507-5793‬ or

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