The Current

PTSD victims of violent crime find positive self-growth facing trauma: study

While a traumatic incident can lead to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, for some it can also lead to growth. A new study looks at why some people who experience trauma are transformed in a positive way.
A study on PTSD looks at suffers who experience what's called post-traumatic growth, when people who are push past the trauma reach personal, positive growth in their lives. (Shutterstock / l i g h t p o e t)

Read story transcript

Countless soldiers and medics, police and victims of crime, live with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to a new study by Ottawa's Algonquin College, research suggests some victims of violence who can push past the trauma, have found ways to improve their lives.

Post-traumatic growth (PTG), the term used to identify the resilience some PTSD sufferers demonstrate, defines the positive, transformational effects in people's lives.

Jennifer Barkley was a participant in the study. Her sister was murdered 18 years ago in St. Louis, Ont. She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that "it's been a lifelong struggle trying to understand the trauma and work through the trauma."

"For me I was overwhelmed by grief and I was searching to comprehend the incomprehensible," Barkley says.

Barkley found treatment through education by completing a criminology degree with a minor in forensic psychology.

"That was my search for answers. And it ended up being my therapy."

Barkley tells Tremonti her career path was "an immediate and definite response of the violence."

Once she could recognize other people's pain, Barkley says she was not alone with her battle with PTSD symptoms.

"I would say my growth was getting to a point where I became empathetic with other survivors and victims of violence. I could see their pain, feel their pain and want to help with their pain," Barkley says.

"I mean, pain I think can serve many purposes. And for me, my pain in the end helps me see others but mostly I understand others."

Benjamin Roebuck, professor and co-ordinator of  Algonquin College's graduate victimology program, is leading the post-traumatic growth study.

He tells Tremonti the applied research project aims to "a grounded understanding of what has been helpful and what has been unhelpful on people's own journeys to wellness."

"The goal is to improve services and training for victim service providers, and to really build resources that are going to support that growth and support the resiliency."

Roebuck says post-traumatic growth is an individual journey so it manifests itself in different ways.

"The types of growth that we see from people like Jennifer has already described are, this deepen empathy at times for the experiences of others, or a greater connectedness. For some people there's a greater awareness of spirituality and for others they move in a different direction."

Consistently, Roebuck says survivors of violence share stories that result in healing and wellness.

"I hear these remarkable stories about you know the harm that they experienced, and at the same time that there's some courage and perseverance and remarkable stories of healing and wellness that come in as well."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Samira Mohyeddin.