Post-traumatic growth sparks healing among veterans and first responders

Almost all people will encounter trauma of some sort in their lifetimes, but not all will bounce back, or even grow, from those experiences. Have you ever wondered how someone can survive a natural disaster or harrowing military combat experiences and instead of being weighed down by the trauma, appear mentally stronger as a result?

This flourishing, noticed for decades by counselors, is called post-traumatic growth (PTG). Though a relatively new niche of targeted research, it is something Rosecrance Florian Program Director Dan DeGryse has seen for decades as a firefighter and counselor for uniformed service personnel. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new validation of the concept, as a recent Yale University survey of military veterans found that nearly half had experienced significant psychological gains over the past year. In contrast, 13 percent of those surveyed experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and 8 percent considered suicide.

“I experienced PTG long before I ever understood it,” DeGryse said. “I would respond to a traumatic incident knowing that it would go well because previous emergencies had prepared me for this. It is great to see research on this because it has been happening so long. The more we understand, the better we can serve our first responders and military personnel.”

People who seek treatment through the Rosecrance Florian Program are those who want to develop stronger skills to cope with trauma they routinely experience. They blossom in an environment that includes education, talk therapy, tools for emotional regulation, challenges to change a person’s outlook on life, and a commitment to serving others. These core PTG concepts also are foundational to Rosecrance’s 12 Step philosophy.

“Many of the people we treat have been in their careers a while, which indicates they are dedicated to helping others. They have been through a lot in those years,” DeGryse said. “They won’t be able to stop the trauma, but we help them manage it better. When it is normalized, they find the peace to address the issues and become stronger and successful.”

Supportive relationships are one of the most important catalysts to experience PTG. For Rosecrance Florian clients, those connections begin with each other, and they are encouraged to work on restoring bonds with loved ones during and after treatment. One way families can restore relationships is by learning when to give their loved one space to decompress, when to engage, and to be ready to listen.

“One of the biggest breakthroughs in my family relationships came when we recognized that I needed a short transition time after a shift,” DeGryse said. “That break enabled me to be fully present as a father and husband. I want all our clients to experience the same healing and growth that comes through deeper relationships with loved ones.”