Exploring Thriving in the Context of Clinical Trauma Theory: Constructivist Self Development Theory

Authors

  • Karen W. Saakvitne,

    1. Traumatic Stress Institute/Center for Adult and Adolescent Psychotherapy
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      KAREN W. SAAKVITNE is the Clinical Director of the Traumatic Stress Institute/Center for Adult and Adolescent Psychotherapy LLC in South Windsor, CT. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Austen Riggs Center. She has coauthored two books and numerous chapters and articles on clinical theory and technique in psychotherapy with survivors of traumatic life events, with a special focus on the impact of the work on the therapist.

  • Howard Tennen,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Connecticut Health Center
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      HOWARD TENNEN received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts. He is Professor of Community Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center. His current research focuses on coping, health and well-being, and adaptation to chronic illness.

  • Glenn Affleck

    1. University of Connecticut Health Center
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      GLENN AFFLECK received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Connecticut and is Professor of Community Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center. His current research focuses on stress, coping, and health and the dynamics of daily life with chronic illness.


University of Connecticut Health Center, Department of Community Medicine and Health Care, MC6205, Farmington, CT 06030-6205; e-mail: tennen@nsol.uchc.edu

Abstract

In this article we critique current conceptualizations and methods of studying posttraumatic growth and offer an alternative framework using clinical trauma theory, specifically, Constructivist Self Development Theory (CSDT). We identify five limitations in the current literature: (1) a strict adherence to nomothetic investigation, (2) reliance on moderator analyses over descriptive inquiry, (3) exclusive use of univariate outcome indicators, (4) failure to distinguish effortful from automatic change, and (5) oversight of abrupt change. We offer CSDT as an integrative clinical theory that identifies five aspects of the self affected by traumatic events and examine how the study of thriving guided by CSDT could overcome these limitations. We conclude with a discussion of change, distinguishing that which occurs within psychotherapy from that which occurs outside the therapeutic context.

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