Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Spiritual Care and Counselling


Martin Luther University College

First Advisor

Brice Balmer

Advisor Role

Faculty Advisor


The discipline of spiritual care and psychotherapy integrates theology with social sciences. Theological reflection is the lens through which the social sciences are engaged. Using the theoretical framework of theological reflexivity and an understanding of people as living human documents, this doctoral dissertation examines the question, “What are some factors that enable an individual to transform a self-defined traumatic experience into posttraumatic growth?” The existential question of trauma and suffering is explored using the biblical narrative of the concubine in Judges 19 to examine her powerlessness and victimization, the narrative of Job to wrestle with the question of unjust suffering, the narrative of Joseph to explore his meaning-making and posttraumatic growth, and Jesus and the theology of the cross which makes possible the ability to change from a life-limiting theology of trauma to a life-giving theology of trauma.

A qualitative, phenomenological research methodology was used to seek understanding from the participants’ narratives about the phenomenon of transformation from trauma to posttraumatic growth. The research data set consists of twelve stories obtained through a purposive sample of ten semi-structured individual interviews and a focus group of two people. The data was analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA).

Personal agency emerged as the over-arching factor that contributes to transformation from trauma to posttraumatic growth. Personal agency was evident through four subthemes identified in the participants’ stories: 1) use of strong “I” statements; 2) making choices about things the individuals could control; 3) engaging their experience with the full range of human dimensions—spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational; and 4) recognizing their growth through meaning-making.

The results of this research offer a practical contribution to psycho-spiritual clinicians and therapists who can use an awareness of these factors to formulate care plans and therapeutic interventions that include attention to the spiritual dimension to help their clients grow from trauma. The researcher contributes the tools of the SEMP-R Circle and the Trauma Narrative Timeline as a way to diagram with their clients the holistic dimension of their human responses to trauma and posttraumatic growth.

Psycho-spiritual therapists journey with their clients to help them incorporate the trauma into their life stories by changing their life-limiting beliefs and values about the trauma to life-giving beliefs, recognizing that the traumatic event forever changes their lives but it need not cause them to sink with the Titanic. Further research can be done on how the use of metaphoric language—like the image of not sinking with the Titanic—can be used to facilitate meaning-making after trauma.

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