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  • Olena Bidovanets, MD, MPH, and Nicholas Mellor

Nurturing Recovery, Purpose, and Growth amidst Trauma and Adversity

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

War wreaks havoc on societies, leaving individuals and communities struggling to come to terms with the brutalisation of their worlds. Often manifesting as post-traumatic stress, it can leave people in shock, or be triggered long after the event. In Ukraine, the need for psycho-social support far exceeds the availability of trained professionals, leading to research into ways of responding to the trauma in a way that can be scaled, across groups, communities and the country as a whole.



The pervasive stigma surrounding mental health complicates the healing process, with different societal groups, from soldiers and veterans to the young and old, grappling with the ongoing trauma in their own unique ways.



On the 10th November,



marking the anniversary of the Armistice at the end of the first World War, we brought together a group of people in a webinar to address three questions:

  • What are the immediate priorities for mental health support in Ukraine

  • How might the international community help in an integrated / complementary way

  • How might we sustain that support in the long term, particularly in building the peace after the war

 

The group included medical doctors, humanitarian workers and diplomats from British US, Europe and the Middle East with a similar breadth of experience of aid programmes around the world.  



The starting point was the ground-breaking work of Dr. Richard Tedeschi at the Boulder Crest Foundation in the US, where Dr Olena Bidovanets has witnessed first-hand Dr. Richard Tedeschi’s approach and the idea of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). 

 

Dr Tedeschi view is that while war brings immense suffering and irreversible change; amidst this chaos and destruction, a unique form of psychological transformation can occur: Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). Dr. Richard Tedeschi coined this term with his colleague Lawrence Calhoun in 1995.

PTG represents a positive psychological change. This growth emerges when an individual's core belief system is challenged by traumatic events, leading to a recognition of how they have changed and the insights it has given them into finding a new sense of purpose.

 

Boulder Crest's peer-to-peer methodology, which emphasizes trust and connection among individuals with shared experiences, has proved particularly effective. It enables the creation of support programs within peer groups sharing similar backgrounds, languages, and cultures. This can be adapted to support specific groups in society such as pastors, teachers, veterans, children or even post office workers.

 

Dr. Olena Bidovanets shared her experience:Post Traumatic growth [OB2] (PTG) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occur after trauma. What differs them happens in the aftermath of the trauma. PTG emerges when people experience a challenge to the core belief system, which should be reconstructed.  In that struggle after the trauma, people tend to reconstruct a belief system . During this process, people often experience a transformation of their true selves.

 



PTG can be experienced in five different ways: personal strength,  appreciation of  life,  new possibilities, improved interpersonal relationship and a spiritual existential change.

People are more likely to experience PTG if they understand it is possible. Resilience comes after Growth. If someone is living through trauma, it doesn’t mean that one can’t experience PTG.  Posttraumatic growth is both an outcome and a process. It is a way of living.

 

While there will be always lack of mental specialists, everyone can increase the post traumatic growth supporting each other. It is called a “expert companionship”.




Expert companion offers true relationships through listening to people who struggle, respecting them. People in Ukraine can heal each other practicing this expect companionship.

 

Growth fosters resilience. In Ukraine, many who have already experienced PTG are drawing upon this strength to face new challenges. PTG is an ongoing process, a continuous journey of learning and healing, reflected in the evolving lives of those who experience it.

 

In conclusion, building the resilience needed in war and laying the foundations for peace begins with addressing mental health challenges today. It involves practical planning, learning from global experiences, and harnessing the potential of peer-to-peer approaches. By sharing insights and building upon a broad knowledge base, we can more effectively address the mental health crisis and foster resilience in Ukraine and beyond.

 

We hope to build on this webinar on the 10th November to continue to share insights from around the world, and explore the potential of this peer-to-peer approach to address the current challenge in Ukraine where healthcare resources and community welfare services are already so stretched, and that we build on as wide a base of knowledge as possible as we explore ways of addressing the mental health crisis and building resilience.


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