Differences between Men and Women in Posttraumatic Growth (PTG)

October 27, 2017 by  

Yesterday I defined Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) as the positive change as a result of struggles after a life crisis.  A very interesting study tried to figure out whether men and women differ in their ability to weather crises and experience growth.  Remember, in general men and women tend to score similarly on most psychological variables – men and women are more alike than different (in spite of the popular press’s desire to highlight differences).  If you don’t believe me, please read Janet Hyde’s wonderful article, “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis” in the September, 2005, issue of the American Psychologist.

But, I digress.  There does seem to be a difference in men and women’s reporting about growth after a crisis.  Even when the researchers accounted for the types of crises that men and women might not share equally (sexual violence and war are 2 good examples), they found differences. I’ll give you the citation at the end so you can follow this up if you like.  The group of researchers analyzed 70 studies that met their strict criteria.  They had more than 16,000 subjects, so you can see that this is a strong study.

Women reported more growth after crises than men did.  Why?  Backstory:  Women are more than 4X likely to develop PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), women report more PTSD symptoms, women report greater severity of PTSD symptoms.  So, if they seem to have more reaction to trauma, what allows women to experience greater growth after a trauma?

Women and men both are exposed to trauma and experience bad things.  Women have more symptoms because they perceive situations as more threatening that men do; when threatened, they experience more stress; and feel more loss of control than men do.  Probably, because of these facts, women lives have more upheaval.  They may be forced to face their distress.  Women tend to contemplate and brood more than men but it works for them here.  They brood constructively; they recall their strengths; they rely on their social networks; and they use therapy more often.  These are the ways that people grow and change. The women face their emotions, they do not avoid their feelings.  They “work through” the problems, the feelings, the beliefs connected to the trauma and come out healthier.

Growth after trauma comes from actively struggling with the problem, the aftermath, the mess, the horrible feelings.  You can make sense – emotionally and brain-wise – out of life events.  This is one way that growth happens.

The study referred to is by Tanya Vishnevsky, Arnie Cann, Lawrence G. Calhoun, Richard G. Tedeschi, and George J. Demakis (all from U. of North Carolina at Charlotte).  Gender Differences in Self-Reported Posttraumatic Growth: A Meta-Analysis, 2010, Psychology of Women Quarterly, volume 34, pp. 110-120.

Personal Growth after Trauma

October 26, 2017 by  

There has been much good information written about the harmful effects of trauma, whether the damage was done from war, sexual abuse, violence, natural disasters or the other zillion ways of being harmed in this world.  When I used to teach Adult Development to the Counseling Psychology graduate students at Northwestern University each Spring, we talked about trauma for two grueling weeks.  By then, the students begin to look traumatized by our readings, lectures and discussion but, of course, they were in training to learn to be therapists, so that was part of the deal.

However, there is another, more positive, phenomenon that we discuss less often – positive growth.  Researchers are beginning to write about Posttraumatic Growth (PTG), meaning that people experience positive change as a result of their struggles and working through of a big crisis.  I believe that much of the positive growth comes from the person’s ability to mourn – that is, to work their way through the difficult experience, emotions, and beliefs.  People don’t “get over” crises but they can get through them in and, like a long hard journey, reach a better, healthier, more creative place at the other end.

I’ve written (books and papers) about the process of mourning for more than thirty years.  I’ve written about the creative outcomes that are possible for more than fifteen years so many of those ideas will appear here regularly.  I hope that you find them helpful.  Tomorrow, I’ll say a bit more about the differences between men and women in achieving posttraumatic growth and mourning.

The Disaster Of Politeness

April 12, 2016 by  

Most of us have been taught to be polite.  We are drilled with the belief that hurting anyone’s feelings is bad thing to do.  We are cautioned to “play nice”, “be nice”, “don’t be mean”.  I will admit publicly, for the very first time, that in 8th grade at Horace Mann School inn New Jersey, I was voted “most polite”.  Well, with credentials like that, I certainly have the right to post an article about the other side of politeness. I am not going to advocate meanness or bad manners.  I do however, want to point out that there is a dark side to every good quality, and here is the dark side of politeness.

Women’s ability to protect themselves from sexual assault decreases under certain conditions:

  1. When she is conflicted about what to do in the situation, her assertive resistance decreases.  She is more likely to resist politely or go along with his sexual advances.
  2. When she is uncertain about her own wishes, she offers only polite resistance.
  3. When she is in shock, she becomes increasingly passive.

Women especially, suffer from politeness.  Because they have been trained not to hurt anyone’s feelings, they become too passive when they are confused or uncertain.  They want men to like them.  For some women, particularly those with a history of childhood sexual victimization, their appraisal of a situation may be faulty.  They may misread a man’s sexual intentions.

I have listened to many, many stories of unwanted sexual behavior, coercion and assault.  These accounts come from smart, savvy women who, too often, say that they ignored their own wishes because, “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings,”  “I wasn’t sure,” or  “I didn’t want to be rude.” And then, some guy reads her passivity as consent and the hunt is on.  This is what I mean when I say that  the lovely qualities of politeness and kindness towards other people have a dark side – they prevent people from acting on their own behalf.

The above examples are extreme, I know, but tone them down and you still have a problem of ignoring your own well being because you are reluctant to make some other person uncomfortable, angry, frustrated or embarrassed.

Negative Therapist Characteristics

September 30, 2013 by  

Have you ever wondered why you didn’t connect with your counselor? Or, IMG_0921maybe you did connect but something went wrong and therapy didn’t work? Every therapist/client relationship with have disagreements or ‘breaks’.  After all, it is a relationship, subject to all the same stuff as every relationship, but some factors on the part of the therapist have been shown to be problematic. Here are some reasons why therapists fail to maintain a strong therapeutic alliance with their clients:

1. Intrusive behaviors – the therapist imposes his/her own views, makes irrelevant comments, uses inappropriate techniques (Hartley and Strupp 1983).

2. Personality characteristics – the therapist is very rigid, self-focused, critical, or uninvolved (Marmer et al 1989)

3. Attributes that make it hard to connect – the therapist is exploitative, critical, moralistic, defensive, or lacking warmth or respect. (Eaton et al 1993).

4. General problems – the therapist is not confident, is bored, tired, blaming or unsupportive.

In more than 25 years of teaching new therapists, I can safely say that these are not common characteristics to find in your therapist.  In the hundreds and hundreds of students with whom I worked, maybe there were a few who belonged in some other field. Generally, you will find that people who go into the counseling, field are warm, interested, supportive, involved, not blaming and on your side. They are invested in your well-being and have no personal stake in the  outcome of your situation  (other than mental health) so you have the opportunity to forge a somewhat unusual, but rewarding relationship.

There’s a good therapist in this mystery...

Object of Obsession

6 Point Checklist For Brief Psychotherapy

May 15, 2013 by  

Brief psychotherapy refers to time-limited work, whether that means 4 sessions or 20 sessions.  I don’t usually do brief psychotherapy but I know that many people are interested in it so, here is a bit of a checklist to help you decide whether brief therapy is right for you.

 The more you answer ‘yes’, the more you are a candidate for time-limited treatment.
1. Is the problem short term rather than chronic?
2. Do you have limited resources, i.e. time and/or money? (hmmm, who doesn’t?)
3. Can you stay narrowly and clearly focused on 1 problem?
4. Would you prefer a problem-solving approach rather than a more in-depth therapy?
5. Are you in relatively good psychological shape?
6. Do you like a lot of activity on the part of your therapist?
This isn’t very scientific but it can serve as an initial guide.
My novel, Objection of  Obsession isn’t brief, but read it anyway.
OO v3

Psychology Students And Their Use Of Personal Therapy

October 14, 2012 by  

As a psychology professor for many years, I always encouraged, some would say browbeat, shoved, or coaxed, graduate students into therapy.  I didn’t care how they got to therapy, only that they made self-examination a priority before they began treating others.

Paul Camic, Ph.D., a friend and colleague from my days at the Chicago School, and his colleagues, have just published an incredibly useful article that examines social stigma and attitudes towards seeking therapy in 3 countries. You ought to read all of it, but I will summarize a few of the results that struck me as especially noteworthy.

1. Students from Argentina, England, and the United States have significant differences about using therapy, with Argentinean students showing the lowest levels of perceived social stigma for receiving therapy, followed by English and Americans.

2. English students showed relatively less positive attitudes toward seeking therapy than

their Argentinean and American counterparts. Hmmmm, the royal family could benefit.

3. Students were influenced by their chosen professional activity, with clinicians who deliver psychotherapy being more inclined to undergo therapy than those involved in non-treatment roles.

4. Students were influence by their own theoretical

orientation, with psychoanalytic/

psychodynamic therapists being the most likely to have undergone personal therapy and cognitive– behavioral therapists being the least likely to have done so.

5. American and Argentinean students were significantly more positive toward therapy than the English. But, Argentinean students mirror the wider population’s views of therapy (high value) American students hold more positive attitudes toward therapy than the wider population of American lay people.

Source: Digiuni, M., Jones, F. W., & Camic, P. M. (2012, August 13). Perceived Social Stigma and Attitudes Towards Seeking Therapy in Training: A Cross-National Study. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028784

Lying On and Off the Couch

May 4, 2012 by  

There is little evidence that lying is useful.  It is usually easier to tell the truth because you don’t have to keep track of your lies.  It also feels better.  “If you have to lie,” I’ve told clients, “at least, don’t lie to yourself!” Lying starts early. Children begin to have the ability to lie around age three because, at that age, they have some understanding of their parents’ minds. They comprehend the notion of rules (and breaking them), and kids know that they don’t want to be punished. 

Adults lie for similar reasons – they want to look good, they are embarrassed or ashamed,

they are upholding some image of themselves, they don’t want to be punished, they don’t want to damage a relationship, and they don’t realize that lying will exact a high price from them.

Clients even lie in therapy – a strange place to lie when you consider the purpose of coming to therapy – but in many ways, therapy is like any other relationship, and people behave in similar ways. Why would people lie in treatment?  Same as outside. People want to avoid the painful consequences of telling the truth; they feel too ashamed to tell the truth; they fear being judged or rejected; they want to avoid the pain of the truth; and they want to be perceived in certain ways and the truth ruins that.

There is a real personal downside to lying. Lies place a high strain on your working memory and decision making abilities because you have to work harder to keep things straight.  If you are going to lie, it helps if you are the type of person who can detach yourself from the truth while you lie – like role playing or acting.  Not surprisingly, people who are natural born actors, those who are socially adepts, and extroverts do best as liars.

“Team” As A Marital Metaphor

May 2, 2012 by  

Some time ago, during a marital therapy session, a man told his wife that he felt that they weren’t on the same team and wanted that to change. His wife initially rolled her eyes at the metaphor but, as the three of us talked, I realized that he was simply translating all of his emotions into a language that made sense to him. For me (I wasn’t sure about them) lightening struck.

I have never been a convert to the Mars and Venus, men-and-women-are-sooo-different theory of life. Research tells us that there are more similarities than differences between men and women.

winstrol tablets

There are far greater differences among men and among women that between men and women. In spite of that fact, men often feel at a disadvantage in couples counseling; they are not usually experienced in that kind of emotional talk.  They sometimes have the feeling of being pulled into a game that they never learned to play.

Since the session where the husband used the ‘team’ metaphor, I have also successfully used it in my attempts to get people to understand each other. I mentioned this to my daughter Jenny over coffee one day. She liked it.

Fast forward a week one week. Jenny and her friend Annie are having coffee. Annie, compatibly married for two years complained about the conflict over garbage removal. “Why doesn’t Sam remember to take it out?” she moaned.  They discussed men. At some point, Jenny shared our conversation about using team language. That evening, Annie said to Sam, “Look, we are on the same team but the garbage is giving our team a problem. Any ideas?”  Sam thought about it and made a suggestion. Their particular suggestion doesn’t matter all that much (Annie ties it and leaves it near the door. Sam removes it), but it is absolutely lovely that one small problem is now gone from their relationship.

So, this idea of thinking about marriage as a team has possibilities because:

1. there are elements of marriage that need management, not love

2. teamwork is non-threatening

3. teamwork is nonpsychological

4. teamwork is cooperative and friendly

5. teamwork levels the playing field (pardon the team pun)

6. the concept promises results

“Confidence” cartoon #5

September 23, 2011 by  

School is in session !!!!  In honor of all the grad students entering the fields of psychology, social work, counseling and other service professions, I’m posting a week of clinical training cartoons. For those of you who have followed my blog, you may remember these from last year because they are the first 7 cartoons that were posted.   New cartoons resume next week on October 3rd; please stay tuned.

“Sara’s First Session” cartoon # 4

September 22, 2011 by  

School is in session !!!!  In honor of all the grad students entering the fields of psychology, social work, counseling and other service professions, I’m posting a week of clinical training cartoons. For those of you who have followed my blog, you may remember these from last year because they are the first 7 cartoons that were posted.   New cartoons resume next week on October 3rd; please stay tuned.

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