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On March 14, Ann Friesema, a professor at UW-Parkside and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago who has worked for 13 years, gave a presentation on posttraumatic growth. The hour-long presentation was a part of the Science Night series of events at the school that features guest-speakers who focus on some interesting topic in science; the event, like all Science Night events, was open to community members as well UW-Parkside students.
What is posttraumatic growth?
Dr. Friesema’s discussion was one of the many events associated with the Big Read at UW-Parkside—a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts whose website says it “aims to inspire conversation and discovery” by focusing on a single book. At UW-Parkside, this book is the post-apocalyptic novel “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, the 2014 Arthur C. Clarke Award recipient. The novel’s characters live in a harsh, violent world and must endure much trauma in their lives.
Posttraumatic growth is the process of healing and personal change that can occur following a traumatic event. The Ranger News spoke to Friesema after her presentation, and she contrasted posttraumatic growth with the better-known PTSD by saying that “posttraumatic growth is the positive change out of trauma as opposed to PTSD, which is a mental disorder.” Research into posttraumatic growth is relatively new, having only been conducted over the last 25 years.
Growth through community
The presentation discussed various aspects of posttraumatic growth and the scientific community’s current understanding of the phenomenon. The perception of personal growth after trauma is subjective, so when individuals were asked by psychologists about how they changed, they answered with a range of different responses.Some patients claimed they experienced increased personal strength, some found a new openness to new possibilities in life, others attained a deeper spirituality, many found a greater appreciation for life while others formed closer relationships with friends and family. Universally, community support was an important factor in encouraging posttraumatic growth.
Relevant quotes from “Station Eleven” were placed side-by-side with other information in Friesema’s slides. These quotes were primarily the reflections of the novel’s characters, and how their witnessing of the apocalypse changed their views of themselves. Dr. Friesema said the largest parallel that could be drawn from the book regarding posttraumatic growth was “community and connection.” In the novel, the main characters roam in a band, and they rely on each other for security and emotional support. Friesema stressed that “so much of healing out of trauma has to do with being connected to other people.” Were the band not to exist, the trauma and hardship faced by “Station Eleven”’s characters would likely break them.
More to come for Science Night
Dr. Friesema wanted to remind readers that traumatic events do not need to result in negative change but “can be a catalyst for growth and development;” she said that “can surprise people.” Dr. Friesema is also one the individuals who have been tasked with developing and implementing UW-Parkside’s masters program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling which will be first offered in Fall of 2018. She will be teaching courses in trauma, crisis, and the foundations of mental health counselling. Keep an eye on the flyers posted around campus for more information on the next Science Night presentation.