Psychological processes in adversarial growth
This thesis set out to investigate some of the variables associated with, and the processes and mechanisms of, positive change following trauma and adversity, or adversarial growth, in diverse populations. A systematic and comprehensive review of the literature (Chapter 2) identified the state of knowledge, and pointed to a number of salient directions for future research. Some of these directions were pursued in the subsequent empirical chapters. Five empirical chapters (Chapters 3 –7) examined a range of variables and processes in adversarial growth, using a variety of populations. Using two large student samples, it was found that emotion-focused coping mediated the association between subjective distress and adversarial growth, and that emotional intelligence was a potentially key variable in the role of emotions in adversarial growth (Chapter 3). A longitudinal study of people who had been severely traumatised and were suffering chronic psychological distress revealed that the experience of positive change predicted lower psychological distress and negative change six months later (Chapter 4). Vicarious processes in adversarial growth were investigated in therapists, and it was shown that the working alliance may be a core channel through which the process of vicarious growth operates (Chapter 5). Extending this focus on vicarious processes, in two samples of disaster workers, and funeral directors, it was shown that psychosocial variables were more salient in their associations with adversarial growth than professional experience variables. Specifically, the role of cognitive processing was emphasised, together with an exploration of the novel area of death attitudes (Chapter 6). A more explicitly existential focus, using three samples of churchgoers, members of the general population, and funeral directors, addressed the role of Yalom’s ultimate existential concerns and adversarial growth. Negative death attitudes were shown to be consistently associated with more negative changes and fewer positive changes, but the associations with negative changes were mediated, in some instances, by the presence of meaning in life and satisfying close relationships, consistent with theoretical predictions. Further, aspects of the organismic valuing theory of growth through adversity were tested, and broadly supported (Chapter 7). The concluding chapter (Chapter 8) reviewed the main findings from the thesis, identified ongoing questions from the literature, and indicated salient directions for research, including an emphasis on the clinical applications of adversarial growth.