Harvesting hope and learning to thrive
I concluded my last article which offered 'guidance for walking through a storm of troubles, with a brief description of Stephen Joseph's 'THRIVE' model for post-traumatic growth. The high levels of stress currently being universally generated by the devastating effects of the continuing Covid 19 pandemic indicates that many of us may be experiencing post-traumatic stress in a wide range of different forms and with varied levels of intensity.
In my personal opinion, if you are currently experiencing difficulties with relationships, increased anxiety about life in general and uncertainty about the future, you may possibly not be suffering from a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at all, but authentically, rationally and empathically experiencing the currently distressing nature of the global human condition.
As a practising existential therapist I genuinely believe that Prof Joseph's self-help guide to overcoming adversity and moving forward, 'What doesn't kill us', could be of great practical help to most of us. However, I also believe that many different modalities of counselling and talking therapy may be extremely valuable forms of support and expert companionship when the going gets really tough. As it is doing for many of us.
Back in September 2017 I wrote an article called 'Harvesting Hope' about the heartening concept of 'post-traumatic growth'. Within that personal account I described Stephen Joseph's 'THRIVE' model as a guide to self-help for people recovering from trauma.
The model presents reflective exercises in a detailed series of six stages or signposts to assist survivors through a process of coping and moving on with their lives. This practical form of support represents a valuable outcome of his thorough research of the topic over 25 years. Joseph describes the following signposts in much greater detail in his book:
- taking stock
- harvesting hope
- identifying change
- valuing change
- expressing change in action
I have found this guidance extremely helpful in my own experience of post-traumatic stress, and in my counselling work as an existential therapist. My existential approach to person-centred therapy is described in my May 2020 article for Counselling Directory "Coping with Coronavirus through Existential Therapy".
Joseph advises that therapy can be helpful in teaching new coping skills, but he warns that therapists cannot teach people meaning. Meaning is unique for each person. He suggests that what we can do is to support people in their own search for meaning. I conclude that what people may need are expert companions alongside them in their journey to understand and rebuild their lives.
My own ongoing PhD narrative inquiry, exploring how counselling can help with later life transitions and changes, indicates that Viktor Frankl's idea that finding our own meaning and purpose is a vitally important aspect of facilitating continued development and well-being. This research is more fully described in my May 2020 article in Counselling Directory 'Existential Therapy and Lifelong Learning'.
The American Psychological Association has created educational materials that provide advice for people who have encountered adversity on their best ways of coping:
- making connections with others
- avoiding seeing crises as insurmountable
- accepting that change is part of life
- moving towards goals
- taking decisive actions
- looking for opportunities for self-discovery
- nurturing a positive view of oneself
- learning from the past
- maintaining a hopeful outlook
In his moving and compassionate personal account of experiences as a psychotherapist and trauma specialist, John Marzillier writes: "one of the major changes that occurs after trauma is the rupturing of the narrative of one's life, of that which gives us a sense of identity and our place in the world... Weaving a new narrative, one that takes these changes into account, is the overarching task for the trauma sufferers: not just recovering from the distress but being able to incorporate the experience and move on".
Much research has been conducted over the last 30 years providing tested evidence of the therapeutic value of telling and listening to personal stories. I have concluded from both my experience and research that post-traumatic stress, like loss and grief, is a challenging yet vital aspect of human existence that we all experience and process in individual ways. The particular form of companionship offered by the counselling relationship is one way in which people may be helped to find their own meaning, create new narratives and move on.