Post-traumatic resilience and optimism

Why are some people able to come through horrifying traumatic events and somehow be stronger for it, while others end up with long-term emotional and/or physical suffering? At the PIRL we use our MSK trauma models, both clinical and virtual—reality based simulations, to explore the emotional reactions, including interpretations and appraisals of, the experience of trauma. In the pain field tradition has been to identify those at risk of transitioning to chronic pain by capturing their experiences on a scale of ‘terribleness’ (e.g. catastrophizing, fear, anxiety). While the empirical associations are strong, we believe that this orientation towards negative affect and risk has been harmful for many patients - too many who develop chronic pain are now labeled as somehow misinformed at best, or ‘weak-willed’ or ‘thin-skinned’ at worst.

We would like to flip this conversation. By first conceptualizing the transitional component not as a transition into chronic pain, but as an impairment in the transition out of the pain experience. From this conceptualization, we explore concepts from positive psychology such as resilience and optimism. What if measuring what’s wrong with the way people think and treat it as though it’s a problem to be removed, we instead measured what’s right about people, and identify areas where we can intervene to strengthen those existing resiliencies? We are actively working towards an endorsement of new ways of considering recovery from pain and the person- and context-level factors that may either facilitate or impair that as a more empowering approach to patient care. Critical social science, qualitative, and quantitative approaches in collaboration with our colleagues who are experts in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder are revealing exciting new directions. Keep your eyes peeled on this space.