NOVEMBER 16, 2006 – DEALING WITH TRAUMATIC LOSS:? LAWRENCE G. CALHOUN AND RICH TEDESCHI, Professors of Psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and specialists in trauma and bereavement.? They have written numerous articles and books in this area including:? Trauma and Transformation in 1995, Posttraumatic Growth in 1998, Facilitating Posttraumatic Growth in 1999, Helping Bereaved Parents in 2004, and most recently The Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth.? They teach undergraduate and graduate courses in a variety of clinical areas.? Their professional practice has been focused on individuals and couples coping with highly challenging life circumstances.? In addition, Dr. Tedeschi has facilitated parental bereavement groups since 1987.?
Rich Tedeschi:? I found that being a good listener is the key and what I’ve done is simply pass along what parents have told me over the years about their experiences.? I feel like I’m just kind of a conduit to all the stories I’ve heard and all the things that parents have told me about what’s been helpful and unfortunately what has not been helpful in many times, too.
Rich Tedeschi:? Tragedy and trauma change people certainly and sometimes change people in ways that they can look upon later as beneficial and valued.? It’s not that trauma is a good thing or loss is a good thing but in the aftermath as people try to cope with these things, they discover some things that they might not have recognized before or live in some ways that they might not have considered before their loss.
Rich Tedeschi:? A few people who told us that, for example, right after their child died, they decided that they were going to have to make something positive come out of all this so that their child’s death would not be in vain so that they could take this and somehow change it into some kind of contribution or something useful.? So there are people who might decide such a thing very early on and then there are other people who just kind of stumble into their changes as a result of just trying to survive.
Rich Tedeschi:? we have found from people’s reports that there are five different areas of growth that people talk about.? One is something I think you mentioned, Heidi, before the break.? A sense of personal strength.? I’m stronger than I thought I was.? A second is the recognition that there are maybe new opportunities in life or new possibilities that I wouldn’t have recognized before taking life in a new path, new direction.? A third is deeper relationships with others.? A fourth is a greater appreciation of life, the value of life, how precious it is.? And the fifth is spiritual development.
Rich Tedeschi:? One thing I’d say right off is to have an expectation of growth in the aftermath of this may not be very helpful and we are certainly not saying in our work that everybody experiences this growth or that it’s important that everybody should.? Just surviving things like this is plenty.? Recovering and getting back so that you can live is plenty.? And sometimes this growth is the kind of unexpected benefit that can come along as well.
Rich Tedeschi:? The earthquake is kind of a metaphor that we use for posttraumatic growth saying it’s kind of like a psychological earthquake.? Losing someone you love can be like that in terms of there’s a whole structure of your beliefs of how you think life is going to go and what kind of person you are and how the world works.? It really comes tumbling down just like an earthquake shatters buildings.
Rich Tedeschi:? One of the ways you could really tell with people whether they’ve experienced a trauma is to talk to them about their life story and if they divide it into the before this event and the after this event, you know it’s really traumatic.
Rich Tedeschi:? This is an issue we’ve been trying to untangle in our research for awhile and there are various factors involved in this but one thing I can certainly highlight is the idea that support from others which allows people an extended time to tell their story and to be listened to is really important in all of this because if you have time to tell the story of this and kind of re-think it, then you’re going to be more likely to come upon some perspectives that are new to you and different and represent some ways you can change, some of the unexpected ways you can change.? So you really need a good listener.
Rich Tedeschi:? In our group we hear time and again this may be the only place I can really say the things that are on my mind and in my heart and that involves sometimes saying things that people don’t feel very good about.?
Rich Tedeschi:? All those potential regrets and second guesses, you know, it’s understandable that people will think those things, but you have to allow yourself to be a flawed human being, and to try to meet other people’s expectation in the midst of your grief is not very helpful.? People expect you to be one way.? They expect you to be who you were before, for example, and you really can’t be.? So being charitable with yourself and being patient with this whole process because it takes longer than people realize.? People have these ideas.? Oh, it’s going to take six months or a year or something like that.? You’re really looking at a whole process of years as you move through this and there’s no one particular way to do it, one particular path.? It’s very confusing and messy.? So being charitable with one’s self and being patient.
Rich Tedeschi:? It is kind of a side benefit that can surprise you and certainly people are just trying to survive their grief.? They don’t usually go into the aftermath of their loss with an idea of growth.? They’re just trying to make it and the fact that we’re talking about growth here can maybe highlight for some of the listeners some things that they might not have considered before and so actually, I do see these changes in myself.? And that can be helpful.