The role of Post-Traumatic Growth in disaster recovery
People's reaction to trauma can be complex; it can lead to both positive or negative change, and frequently both. Capacity born from within trauma is rarely spoken about and is effectively silenced through lack of terminology use and understanding.
Similar to formally recognising negative trauma responses such as post-traumatic stress, positive change is also formally recognised. It is termed 'post-traumatic growth' (PTG). However, few, if any, people affected by the 2009 Victorian bushfires had received any information about post-traumatic growth in their recovery.
After a number of staff from the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation (WGRLC) attended a Post-traumatic Growth presentation at the Women in Gippsland Conference, a partnership was established between the WGRLC and the University of Melbourne. They teamed up with Rhonda Abotomey, a Research Assistant for the Black Saturday Post-traumatic Growth Project, who was personally affected by the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires.
With funding received from FRRR's Grants for Resilience & Wellness (GR&W) program, provided by the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund (VBAF), WGRLC organised two community presentations to educate people about post-traumatic growth. While respectfully acknowledging negative impacts of trauma, this project, through exposure to stories of growth helped people understand how positive transformation can be a normal response to direct or vicarious trauma.
The presentations aimed to:
- Showcase real-life examples of post-traumatic growth, as told by people affected by Black Saturday, to provide community with points of connection and reference,
- Introduce a tool to build capacity and resilience
- Provide people with a new or enhanced understanding of trauma impact and model the language people can use to describe the PTG element of their trauma response.
- Facilitate alternative / new points of connection between individuals and communities who are navigating trauma impact.
- Provide an alternate entry point to trauma conversations founded on capacity rather than incapacitation.
- Enhance long-term community recovery by actively and respectfully acknowledging that fundamentally negative events can also produce some positive outcomes within that negativity.
- Expand community trauma knowledge and understanding as a preparedness action to build capacity for coping with future disasters.
Sixteen people attended the hour-long presentations in Drouin and Erica. Each workshop followed the same format: a presentation about post-traumatic growth, followed by an exhibition, question time, morning / afternoon tea and networking time.
Feedback received following these PTG presentations indicated that the information shared had made a positive difference to the knowledge, health, wellbeing, capacity and resilience of community members. This project was a powerful and appropriate response to helping people navigate the impacts of trauma after the highly traumatic events of Black Saturday.
“Enlightening conversation identifying something so valuable to individuals which transforms to greater community connectedness. Well done Rhonda and others.”