Review from New York Journal of Books
What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth
by Stephen Joseph, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans
Released: November 1, 2011
Publisher: Basic Books (256 pages)
“Ordinary people have the power to live lives just as dramatic and driven as those of superheroes, overcoming traumas no less daunting.” So claims Dr. Joseph, who uses part of Nietzsche’s time-tested phrase “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” as part of the book’s title. His experience, research, and writing back up this proclamation and provide perspective and hope for everyone who has, is or will, experience a traumatic event(s) in their life. That includes about 75% of humanity who must face some form of trauma during their lifetime.
Professor Joseph starts out with a little perspective and history of the term “Posttraumatic Growth,” which was coined in the mid-1990s by clinical researchers Professors Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun and is in line with many philosophers’ adages about how to live a “good life” and adapt to and live with loss and trauma. The insight and compassion of holocaust survivor, philosopher, and psychologist Viktor Frankl, is also sprinkled throughout the manuscript in support of the author’s thoughts, case studies and perspectives.
The three existential themes at the core of posttraumatic growth are described as: 1) Recognition that life is uncertain and changes; 2) Psychological mindfulness or how one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are related to one another and 3) Acknowledging personal agency or responsibility for choices one makes.
Dr. Joseph says, “Trauma leads to an awareness of all three of these existential truths.” It might be added that they “can” lead to such awareness, but such awareness does not always take place. He also shares three commonly related aspects of post-traumatic growth, which include personal, philosophical and relational changes and provides examples and case studies of each.
Trauma is taken from the Greek word, which means wound. Our physical wounds are dressed, stitched and/or removed. In the chapter titled The Biology of Trauma, Mr. Joseph shows how our emotional wounds are interconnected with our bodies’ autonomic nervous system and not so outwardly apparent or as easy to fix. “Most of the time our assumptions serve us well,” he says, “but throughout life we are always making revisions to them.” Never is this more apparent than after one has had a traumatic event assault their body, heart and mind.
He also points out that not everyone who experiences post-traumatic stress (PTS) develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as many have been led to believe. This is discussed throughout the book and is an important factor to consider for both survivors and those providing them support.
Read complete review at New York Journal of Books.