WHAT DOESN'T KILL US by Stephen Joseph


The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth
Email this review


A traumatic event can have positive effects, writes the author, by jolting us into valuing friends and families more and being less concerned with ephemeral pleasures.

Joseph (Psychology/Univ. of Nottingham; Post-traumatic Stress, 2010, etc.) is a proponent of positive psychology. As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during the height of that country’s political violence, he has had firsthand experience of the effects of traumatic events. At the time, the author was drawn to tales of superheroes who stood up to violence and made the world a better place. In his professional capacity, he has treated trauma victims beginning with survivors of the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise shipwreck, in which 193 out of 500 passengers were killed. Joseph also draws on a wealth of historical sources such as the writings of Holocaust survivors to substantiate his critique of the current definition of PTSD. In his opinion, while the diagnostic term was valuable in calling attention to the disorder during the Vietnam War, increased broadening of the criteria to include relatively trivial events such as the defeat of a favorite football team and reliance on medication to treat PTSD are problematic, especially since statistics show that the majority of those suffering genuine trauma do not develop full-blown PTSD. Joseph believes that misdiagnoses can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and he suggests that those who do experience full-blown PTSD may benefit by becoming more resilient in confronting and mastering adversity. They may even experience greater happiness in the long run. Conversely, “swallowing a magic pill” to alleviate psychological distress may stand in the way of “an existential journey to a richer life.”

A sure-to-be-controversial, provocative challenge to prevailing wisdom on how to deal with stress.


Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-465-01941-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2011


IndieBANGED-UP HEART by Shirley Melis
by Shirley Melis
NonfictionSTUMBLING ON HAPPINESS by Daniel Gilbert
by Daniel Gilbert
NonfictionTHE HARMONY OF ILLUSIONS by Allan Young
by Allan Young