Dynamic interplay between PTSD symptoms and posttraumatic growth in older military veterans

Julia M. Whealin, Barbara Pitts, Jack Tsai, Caleb Rivera, Brienna M. Fogle, Steven M. Southwick, Robert H. Pietrzak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Posttraumatic growth (PTG) refers to positive psychological changes that may occur after experiencing a traumatic event. While cross-sectional studies have suggested that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with greater PTG, few longitudinal studies have evaluated interrelationships between PTSD and PTG. Further, little is known about which specific symptom clusters of PTSD and coping mechanisms may drive PTG over time. Methods: We evaluated interrelationships between PTSD symptoms and PTG using data from a 4-year, nationally representative, prospective cohort study of 2,006 older trauma-exposed U.S. veterans. Results: Autoregressive cross-lagged panel regression analyses revealed that greater severity of PTSD symptoms was associated with greater PTG over time. Specifically, greater severity of the avoidance and anxious arousal (e.g., hypervigilance) symptoms at Wave 1 predicted greater PTG at Wave 2; and greater severity of avoidance and lower severity of dysphoric arousal (e.g., sleep disturbance) at Wave 2 predicted greater PTG at Wave 3. Engagement in active coping and religious coping were associated with greater subsequent PTG above and beyond autoregressive associations between PTSD and PTG. Limitations: The self-report nature of the assessments, discrete assessment periods assessed, and focus on older military veterans are study limitations. Conclusions: Greater severity of PTSD symptoms, particularly avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms, may contribute to and maintain PTG over time in older veterans. Interventions that promote deliberate, constructive attempts to manage chronic PTSD symptoms via active coping and religious coping may help veterans better manage PTSD symptoms and experience greater PTG in late-life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-191
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - 15 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • COPE
  • PTSD Clusters
  • Posttraumatic growth inventory
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Veterans


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