What Doesn't Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth

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For the past twenty years, pioneering psychologist Stephen Joseph has worked with survivors of trauma. His studies have yielded a startling discovery: that a wide range of traumatic events—from illness, divorce, separation, assault, and bereavement to accidents, natural disasters, and terrorism—can act as catalysts for positive change. Boldly challenging the conventional wisdom about trauma and its aftermath, Joseph demonstrates that rather than ruining one’s life, a traumatic ...

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What Doesn't Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth

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Overview

For the past twenty years, pioneering psychologist Stephen Joseph has worked with survivors of trauma. His studies have yielded a startling discovery: that a wide range of traumatic events—from illness, divorce, separation, assault, and bereavement to accidents, natural disasters, and terrorism—can act as catalysts for positive change. Boldly challenging the conventional wisdom about trauma and its aftermath, Joseph demonstrates that rather than ruining one’s life, a traumatic event can actually improve it.

Drawing on the wisdom of ancient philosophers, the insights of evolutionary biologists, and the optimism of positive psychologists, What Doesn’t Kill Us reveals how all of us can navigate change and adversity— traumatic or otherwise—to find new meaning, purpose, and direction in life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“Trauma,” with its connotation of experiential shock and protracted emotional pain, has become one of the bywords of modern culture. Yet, maintains British psychologist Joseph, trauma can lead to personal growth and a richer life, including a “reprioritization of values” and a greater appreciation of the gift of life. While part of the still relatively new movement of positive psychology, Joseph is not pollyannaish; he acknowledges that the stress that follows trauma can be intense and extensive. The most helpful part of Joseph’s book is a postscript in which he offers guidance for readers trying to manage their emotions, including six markers of growth, beginning with taking stock and expressing change in action. The book fails to differentiate between types of trauma—surely someone who has witnessed a murder, suffered rape, or been tortured undergoes a different recovery process than someone who has been in a serious car accident—and offers only cursory descriptions of such therapeutic treatments as “compassionate mind training.” As traditional views of the consequences of trauma have been too dour, Joseph’s claim, in this otherwise informative and thoughtful book, that trauma can lead to an “existential journey to a richer life” may be a touch too upbeat. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews

A traumatic event can have positive effects, writes the author, by jolting us into valuing friends and families more and being less concerned with ephemeral pleasures.

Joseph (Psychology/Univ. of Nottingham; Post-traumatic Stress, 2010, etc.) is a proponent of positive psychology. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during the height of that country's political violence, he has had firsthand experience of the effects of traumatic events. At the time, the author was drawn to tales of superheroes who stood up to violence and made the world a better place. In his professional capacity, he has treated trauma victims beginning with survivors of the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise shipwreck, in which 193 out of 500 passengers were killed. Joseph also draws on a wealth of historical sources such as the writings of Holocaust survivors to substantiate his critique of the current definition of PTSD. In his opinion, while the diagnostic term was valuable in calling attention to the disorder during the Vietnam War, increased broadening of the criteria to include relatively trivial events such as the defeat of a favorite football team and reliance on medication to treat PTSD are problematic, especially since statistics show that the majority of those suffering genuine trauma do not develop full-blown PTSD. Joseph believes that misdiagnoses can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and he suggests that those who do experience full-blown PTSD may benefit by becoming more resilient in confronting and mastering adversity. They may even experience greater happiness in the long run. Conversely, "swallowing a magic pill" to alleviate psychological distress may stand in the way of "an existential journey to a richer life."

A sure-to-be-controversial, provocative challenge to prevailing wisdom on how to deal with stress.

From the Publisher

Terry Waite CBE
“We live in a world in which suffering is endemic.  In this book Stephen Joseph sounds a hopeful note.  Suffering need not destroy.”

Robert J. Wicks, Professor, Loyola University Maryland, and author of Bounce: Living the Resilient Life
What Doesn’t Kill Us seamlessly combines needed inspiration and the most advanced information about the new psychology of posttraumatic growth for those who have experienced great suffering.  Stephen Joseph, one of the leading experts in the world on trauma, resilience, and growth, offers both compelling stories and practical information.  What Doesn’t Kill Us is a book of wisdom—both for those who have undergone great stress as well as for those who love and treat them.  It is psychology at its best: honest, hopeful, helpful, and based on sound serious research.  Reading it makes me proud to be a psychologist.”
 
John Harvey, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Iowa
“In What Doesn’t Kill Us, Stephen Joseph brings his expertise as one of the world’s most prolific and influential scholars of trauma and over two decades of clinical experience to bear in producing a literate and compelling book on growth from and through adversity.  The book is replete with powerful story-lines of people who persevered in the face of great pain and loss:  From Michael J. Fox to Viktor Frankl we learn how survivors lived Nietzsche's dictum of what doesn't kill you can make you stronger.  Joseph gives voice to the non-famous and famous alike as he tells stories of survival and thriving, both in personal and global crises.  All the while, the book is highly educational about the dynamics of posttraumatic growth and related concepts. It is a rare feat to produce a book that will appeal and be useful to the general public, as well as scholars and practitioners. Joseph has done so.”
 
Mick Cooper, Professor of Counseling, University of Strathclyde
“Beautifully written, drawing on leading-edge scientific research to reveal one of humankind's noblest qualities: the capacity to find meaning and growth in the face of near-unbearable suffering.”
 
Elaine Iljon Foreman, author of Fly Away Fear: Overcoming Your Fear of Flying
“Convincingly challenging, highly enlightening, and compulsively readable, What Doesn’t Kill Us is thoroughly recommended for both those who have and have not experienced trauma.  A transformational new perspective.”
 
Elaine Fox, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at University of Essex
What Doesn’t Kill Us is an insightful and entertaining account of the new psychology of resilience. Stephen Joseph brilliantly combines personal anecdote with cutting edge psychology to explain why all of us have the capacity to triumph over adversity. A must read if you ever wondered why most of us rebound so well after disaster, What Doesn’t Kill Us is an invaluable guide for anyone wanting to know how to cope with trauma.”
 

Richard Bentall, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool
“In this fascinating book, Stephen Joseph maps out the rarely explored positive consequences of trauma, reminding us that growth is possible even in the most adverse circumstances. Although essential reading for clinicians working with traumatized patients, What Doesn’t Kill Us is so accessibly written that it should appeal to anyone interested in the human condition.”
 
Vaughan Bell, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London
“In an area beset by wishful thinking, Stephen Joseph makes the scientific case for how difficult times can lead to personal growth.  What Doesn’t Kill Us is a well argued and well evidenced challenge to the idea that trauma is necessarily a curse.”
 
Publishers Weekly
“Informative and thoughtful.”
 
Kirkus Reviews
“A sure-to-be-controversial, provocative challenge to prevailing wisdom on how to deal with stress.”
 
New YorkJournal of Books
What Doesn’t Kill Us is accessible for all readers….Well worth the time to read, digest, and utilize in one’s daily life.”

Donald Meichenbaum, PhD Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada and Research Director of the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment of Victims of Violence, Miami, Florida
"Traumatised individuals have a story to tell, as well as re-author. Professor Stephen Joseph is compassionate, attentive listener and a sensitive and scholarly conveyer of this narrative process. He has ably blended his many years of research and clinical practice into an enlightened story of post traumatic growth. This a book that should be read by all who encountered trauma and those who love and treat them. Kudos to Professor Joseph for providing a needed new direction for the treatment of those who experience [posttraumatic stress disorder] and related challenges. This book is a clarion call for a Constructive Narrative Perspective to psychotherapy, filled with pathos and hope."

Dr Gill Hicks MBE, survivor of the London Bombings, July 7, 2005
"What Doesn't Kill Us - indeed does and can make us stronger as brilliantly presented by Professor Stephen Joseph and lived throughout my every day."

Dr Kate Hefferon, Senior Lecturer, University of East London and author of Positive Psychology: Theory, research and applications
"This is the book we have been waiting for Stephen Joseph to write. With decades of experience and knowledge, Joseph presents the wonderfully complex world of posttraumatic growth in an accessible and personable way. Not only does the book provide the most-up-to-date research, What Doesn't Kill Us offers tangible approaches to developing growth after trauma; a feat that will be valued by many."

Dr Nigel Hunt, Associate Professor in Health Psychology, University of Nottingham
"This is a caring and thoughtful account, arguing for the normality of post-traumatic stress as a process of adaptation. Professor Joseph presents a personal and positive perspective, showing how people can come through painful experiences and live fulfilling lives . . . His THRIVE model provides a coherent approach to helping traumatised people."

Stephen Regel, Honorary Associate Professor/Co-Director Centre for Trauma, Resilience and Growth, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham
"Stephen Joseph’s book is inspirational and, not just for the lay reader but also for all therapists, regardless of their theoretical orientation, as trauma in inherent part of their work. It goes far beyond the narrow confines of current clinical approaches to working with trauma and posttraumatic stress and challenges all clinicians to think about what we actually say and do in the consulting room. He takes us along the path of post traumatic growth as an experienced and perceptive guide, opening up many new thought provoking therapeutic possibilities and avenues to facilitate post traumatic growth rather than merely deal with symptomatic change. His chapter on signposts to the facilitation of growth following adversity, through the acronym THRIVE has a simple elegance that everyone can adopt in our current uncertain times. To say that it is essential reading would be an understatement. It is essential as a survival guide to life."

Nature
"Tsunamis, assault, near-death accidents: such experiences are popularly imagined to scar victims 'for life' and leave them in thrall to post-traumatic stress disorder. After two decades of research, positive psychologist Stephen Joseph argues that, for many, these traumas can become an “engine for transformation”. Backed by case studies, he covers trauma's emotional toll, the underlying biology, the realities of resilience and the array of therapies on offer, such as trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy. This is a thorough and common-sense look at the psychology of survival."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465019410
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Joseph is Professor of Psychology, Health, and Social Care at the University of Nottingham, UK, where he codirects the Center for Trauma, Resilience, and Growth. He lives in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

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Table of Contents

Nietzsche's Dictum ix

Part I Everything Changes

1 The Flipside of Trauma 3

2 The Emotional Toll of Trauma 21

3 The Biology of Trauma 49

Part II Growth Following Adversity

4 Transformation 67

5 The Theory of the Shattered Vase 93

6 Paths to Posttraumatic Growth 117

Part III Putting the Growth Mindset to Work

7 Nurturing Growth 139

8 Conclusion 163

Postscript: THRIVE: Six Signposts to Facilitating Posttraumatic Growth 171

Appendix 1 Common Problems Associated with Posttraumatic Stress 205

Appendix 2 Psychological Well-Being Post-Traumatic Changes Questionnaire (PWB-PTCQ) 209

Appendix 3 Some Advice on Seeking Professional Help 211

Acknowledgments 215

Notes 217

References 237

Index 257

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 9, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I thought this book was wonderful. There are many stories of tr

    I thought this book was wonderful. There are many stories of triumph over adversity in this book, and research to back it all up. Too often, we forget to realize the potential to grow in the face of tragedy. In fact, without struggle, how much would we grow at all...? Overall, good work.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2012

    Clear, helpful and hopeful. Post-traumatic growth can be possib

    Clear, helpful and hopeful. Post-traumatic growth can be possible through acceptance, cogitive reframing, and community. PTSD need not be a terminal process, nor is recovery necessarily steeped in pharmaceuticals.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 28, 2012

    interesting

    interesting

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2012

    As a behavioral health professional, I found this book to be ver

    As a behavioral health professional, I found this book to be very good. Many people, especially those who have overcome great tragedy, bounce back and make much more of their time on earth than those who dodge these same events. Resilience is the key, and this book is about resilience. Very timely and well written book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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