The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women

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Introduction

The process of recovery after trauma has been studied for decades, its diverse aspects have been explored in detail. Positive psychological change, also referred to as post-traumatic growth (PTG), is one of the favorable outcomes that is quite common as between 53% and 83% of people who have faced traumatic events experience it (Grad & Zeligman, 2017). PTG can be defined as a set of “opportunities for positive transformation” (Brooks et al., 2017, p. 287). Mattson et al. (2018) define PTG as “positive psychological change experienced after a struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (p. e475). People who have achieved PTG have a greater appreciation of life, enhanced social ties and personal relationships, spiritual development, and improved personal strength.

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PTG is different from resilience, which is a person’s ability to react effectively in a situation that led to trauma (Clark, 2018). Resilience is related to a particular trauma, while PTG has a broader effect that improves the overall quality of life (Grad & Zeligman, 2017). PTG is the person’s psychological growth often associated with positive shifts in the attitude towards life and life philosophy. PTG should not be confused with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. PTSD can be referred to as prolonged distress causing the development of such symptoms as hyperarousal, depression, intrusion, anxiety, avoidance (Mattson et al., 2018). This type of response to trauma is undesirable and requires treatment as it causes numerous inconveniences for an affected person.

These transformations and the exact mechanisms linked to PTG have gained substantial attention in recent decades. The approach is still associated with certain confusion in terms and the lack of clear definitions (Grad & Zeligman, 2017). Nevertheless, this framework has had a significant number of practical implications. Researchers examined the risk factors and potential for growth in people who have had diverse traumas (Kirkner & Ullman, 2019). Some strategies and interventions for patients based on the PTG approach have been developed as well. At the same time, although quite a significant amount of empirical evidence is available, no sound systematization has been implemented.

The proposed project aims at reviewing the current literature on the risk and protective factors related to PTG in women who have experienced sexual violence. A systematic review of the recent empirical studies will be conducted to identify the latest advances and major themes prevailing in this area. The preliminary review of the studies on PTG unveils the lack of research on the target population as well as the trauma mentioned above.

The research question guiding this project is formulated as follows: What are the major risk and protective factors linked to post-traumatic growth in women who have been victims of sexual violence? This project will have numerous implications for researchers and practitioners as the central aspects of PTG in the population mentioned above will be identified. The analysis of the protective factors can be of particular interest as this knowledge will contribute to the creation of effective interventions for female victims of sexual violence.

At this point, it is necessary to shed light on the delimitations of this study. When dealing with post-traumatic experiences, the focus is often on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is a common condition for victims of sexual violence (Mattson et al., 2018). This study will not include the analysis of sources related to this psychological state unless PTG is the focus of the corresponding research. Other traumas (not linked to sexual abuse) will also be excluded from the scope of this study as some (although rather scant) reviews of PTG exist. At that, these reviews include studies on PTG in diverse populations (victims of violence, survivors of wars and natural disasters, new mothers, and those who lost their close ones, to name a few).

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Due to a high incidence of sexual violence and the vulnerability of the target population, the systematic review on PTG among female victims of sexual abuse is essential (Scott et al., 2017). Women who have experienced the trauma, practitioners, and researchers will benefit from the systematization of the current knowledge on the matter as the central domains (risk and protective factors) will be analyzed. This proposal includes a brief literature review, methodology, and discussion sections where the primary details related to the project are highlighted.

Literature Review

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a comparatively young framework addressing the transformations a person experiences following trauma. This paradigm was introduced in the 1990s, and scholars are still working on its development and further refinement (Kirkner & Ullman, 2019). Several definitions and even terms related to PTG exist, such as “positive illusions” or “benefit finding” (as cited in Grad & Zeligman, 2017, p. 190). At that, scholars agree that the concept implies positive psychological transformations resulting from a situation requiring considerable effort and struggle (Arabaci et al., 2018).

According to Mattson et al. (2018), PTG is a positive psychological transformation “experienced after a struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (p. e475). Brooks et al. (2017) add that PTG is associated with the development of “the ability to go beyond prior psychological functioning” (p. 287). Diverse situations can cause trauma, including but not confined to surviving natural disasters, military conflicts, physical or mental violence, and sexual violence.

It is noteworthy that the framework is effective in describing people’s coping strategies, which has placed PTG in researchers’ lenses. Researchers analyzing the implications of sexual violence and related trauma tend to report victims’ ability to achieve post-traumatic growth (Scott et al., 2017). Numerous empirical studies addressing diverse aspects of this framework have been implemented, but it is important to systemize the current knowledge base as there is a limited number of systematic reviews on PTG.

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This concept is often compared to the well-researched post-traumatic stress disorder that is caused by traumatic experiences as well. However, the latter does not encompass positive changes in the victim, whereas PTSD is associated with maladaptive skills (Lahav et al., 2020). Post-traumatic growth is also often linked to the development of resilience, but PTG is a different response to trauma (Clark, 2018). The former leads to positive changes enabling a person to reconsider their life agenda while the latter is confined to the ability to react properly in a certain situation (Khan & Chandiramani, 2018). Irrespective of the lack of a clear definition or appropriate conceptualization of the term, post-traumatic growth is the paradigm widely utilized by practitioners and researchers.

A number of aspects of trauma as related to PTG and PTG as a framework receive the most attention in academia. Since the focus of this systematic review is on sexual violence victims, other types of causes of trauma are not included in this review. One of the major areas of concern is the mechanisms of PTG, which is often considered as a model to adopt when coping with trauma (Dawwas & Thabet, 2017). Diverse types of disclosure and their effects on the development of PTG have been analyzed. Disclosure is seen as an important milestone in the process of post-traumatic growth for sexual violence victims (Bogen et al., 2019). Various means of the disclosure have been used by victims and considered by researchers and practitioners.

Language remains central to the achievement of post-traumatic growth in many contexts. Numerous studies explore the exact techniques that can be employed to achieve PTG in victims of sexual violence. For instance, Eiler et al. (2019) examined the peculiarities of the use of language to disclose the exposure to sexual violence and its influence on victims’ PTG. Language as a component of effective coping techniques is analyzed in the study by Ha et al. (2017). The researchers stated that forgiveness writing could contribute to building PTG in the victims of sexual violence.

Gonzalez-Mendez et al. (2020) also paid specific attention to linguistic elements of people’s responses and found that people with an attentional bias towards resilience-related words are more likely to reach PTG. Another study concentrating on the development of PTG is associated with language or rather victims’ ability to reflect on their experience and tell a story about their life, including the traumatic situations and their implications (Jirek, 2017). Narration is seen as an effective coping strategy, as well as the path towards PTG (Jirek, 2017). The studies mentioned above are also associated with the focus on different communication channels, including writing, social media, face-to-face communication.

As far as social media are concerned, these platforms are seen as potent channels that have to be used by practitioners. Alaggia and Wang (2020) noted that sexual violence victims obtained the support necessary for building the understanding of the experience and achieving PTG. Bogen et al. (2019) also emphasized the role users’ support played in the process of building PTG. Notably, Twitter is one of the most analyzed social media.

Other techniques, instruments, as well as the necessary conditions for achieving PTG are also under consideration. Mattson et al. (2018) focused on the impact of personality traits on female veterans’ ability to achieve PTG. The researchers argued that positive traits (such as openness, extraversion, and others) contribute to the development of PTG, while the presence of PTSD symptoms and negative traits were significant barriers to PTG. Brooks et al. (2017) examined the role rumination and perceived control played in achieving PTG and found that these skills were instrumental in developing coping strategies and improving the victim’s psychological and emotional state.

It is necessary to note that qualitative research design prevails when exploring PTG and its mechanisms. Researchers try to elicit victims’ perspectives regarding their experience and its implications focusing on the coping strategies they utilized or factors preventing PTG (Pessoa et al., 2017). In their qualitative study, Hitter et al. (2017) identified some of the components of the PTG process and considered the impact of empowerment and the sense of agency on PTG. Wang et al. (2018) also highlighted the relevance of self-exploration in reaching post-traumatic growth. The researchers concentrated on people with mental health issues and managed to enrich the current knowledge base.

Regarding quantitative studies, they are mainly concerned with the prevalence of certain psychological states, the effectiveness of particular strategies and techniques, as well as the correlation between PTG and factors contributing to its development, as well as the association between traumatic experiences and PTG. For insource, Dawwas and Thabet (2017) analyzed the link between diverse traumatic experiences related to war and people’s resilience and PTG. Arabaci et al. (2018) analyzed the link between the resilience and post-traumatic growth of female victims of sexual violence. Ha et al. (2017) evaluated the effectiveness of writing therapy aimed at contributing to PTG in female survivors of sexual violence.

This literature review suggests that there is a need for a systematic review of the current literature on PTG of female victims of sexual abuse. Numerous studies provide both quantitative and qualitative data addressing different aspects of the issue. However, there is no sufficient systemized information on the recent knowledge base on the matter. Only a few systematic reviews were located in terms of this analysis, but they were not concerned with the target population. For instance, Wu et al. (2019) explored the prevalence of PTG in victims of violence irrespective of demographics and types of experiences. Therefore, there is a specific gap to be filled as it is important to systematize the current knowledge on PTG in female victims of sexual abuse to identify the available findings and areas of specific interest.

Methodology

As mentioned above, the purpose of this study is to examine the risk and protective factors linked to PTG in female victims of sexual violence. The proposed systematic review aims to answer the following research question: What are the most apparent risk and protective factors associated with PTG in women who have experienced sexual violence? Diverse studies are available on different aspects of PGT and associated treatment interventions, but there is a lack of a synthesized analysis of the available data (Lahav et al., 2020; Wu et al., 2019).

Systematic reviews have been a common type of research that concentrates on summarizing existing literature based on particular research questions and clear methodology (Riley et al., 2019). This type of study was introduced and developed in the 1970s (Munn et al., 2018). The major components of this approach include the focus on specific aspects of a problem, explicitly defined eligibility criteria, detailed description of the methodology, the evaluation of the validity of the sources, and profound synthesis. Systematic reviews tend to include all consistent with the pre-defined criteria, including cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies, as well as reviews.

This systematic review will involve the analysis of the types of studies mentioned above. Some systematic reviews and meta-analyses on PTG have been published, but they tend to concentrate on a wider population (Henson et al., 2020). This approach will be instrumental in identifying the latest discoveries and some trends in research related to post-traumatic growth among females who have faced sexual abuse. The screening process will involve reading the abstracts of articles and their further reading in full as they are found appropriate for the current research. This element of systematic reviews enables the researcher to cover a considerable number of studies and include the most relevant ones.

One of the primary selection criteria is the date of publication, and the focus may be on different periods. At present, researchers pay much attention to the use of the most recent data and updating reviews constantly (Elliott et al., 2017). The present systematic review concentrates on the articles published during the period between 2016 and 2021. It is critical to identify the most recent data on risk and protective factors associated with PTG in female victims of sexual violence, so the articles published during the past five years will be included.

Another important criterion associated with the proposed systematic review is linguistic, as the articles published in English exclusively will be examined. It is noteworthy that the country where the research is implemented and the nationality or ethnicity of the participants will not be a selection measurement. This review aims at identifying the recent advances related to the post-traumatic growth framework on the global scale, so no geographic limits will be set.

As far as the types of studies to be included in this systematic review, longitudinal and cross-sectional studies will be analyzed. Longitudinal research contributes to the development of the understanding of trends that appear over time, the efficiency of treatment strategies, the prevalence of certain disorders, and similar aspects (Cockcroft et al., 2019). Cross-sectional studies provide recent data associated with the latest discoveries and the newest approaches (Coolican, 2017).

These studies tend to concentrate on a particular population and a specific problem or aspect of an issue (Arabaci et al., 2018). In this case, the articles concerned with the risk and protective factors of PTG among females who have experienced sexual violence will be included. Specific attention will be paid to different cohorts that may include women sexually abused in childhood or adolescence, female victims of romantic partners’ sexual abuse, female veterans who experienced sexual violence, individuals with mental health issues.

The databases searched for studies in English will be Cochrane, PubMed, PsycINFO, and ScienceDirect. The search terms will include the following words and phrases, as well as combinations of these keywords: post-traumatic growth (PTG), female victim, sexual violence, sexual abuse, resilience, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although PTSD is different from PTG, this health condition is often compared to PTG and analyzed in relation to this framework (Mattson et al., 2018).

Therefore, post-traumatic stress disorder will also be used as a keyword to locate potentially valuable articles. The target population of this research is adult female victims of sexual abuse, so the sample will include female victims of sexual violence aged between 25 and 45 years old. It is noteworthy that the age of exposure to violence will not be an exclusion criterion. Finally, the stopping rule regarding the search will be applied (Xiao & Watson, 2017). According to this rule of thumb, the search of articles stops when the same references appear as search results and no new data can be found.

Various types of technologies are utilized to implement systematic reviews these days (Marshall & Wallace, 2019). This review will be based on the manual thematic analysis of the chosen studies consistent with the inclusion criteria. As mentioned above, the focus will be on risk and protective factors associated with PTG in women abused sexually. At the same time, this systematic review will also shed light on other prevalent aspects mentioned in the chosen articles. Systematic reviews often highlight the methods employed in the analyzed articles (De Graaff et al., 2018). The present systematic review will also include an analysis of some aspects of methodology to identify the existing trends and potential gaps if any. The most recurrent themes related to the purpose of this analysis will be identified and categorized where appropriate.

The categorization is a common tool that is instrumental in exploring the most apparent trends in the current knowledge base (Hammersley, 2019). The categories will be analyzed to synthesize the data provided in the reviewed articles.

This methodology was utilized as the focus of the proposed study is to examine the current themes and topics related to PTG in the target population that have been researched recently. The thematic review is instrumental in identifying the major contributions and gaps regarding a specific phenomenon. Therefore, this research will explore the topics that have been researched in detail and the areas yet to be examined. The role technology plays in trauma exposure and risk or protective factors of PTG can also be a recurrent theme in current studies.

Systematic reviews encompass the analysis of the relevance of the included sources. Several criteria should be met to identify an article as relevant for the purpose of the given systematic review (Newman & Gough, 2019). The articles are regarded as relevant if they respond to the research question posed in terms of the systematic review. The methodology of the reviewed articles is also assessed in terms of its validity and reliability (Xiao & Watson, 2017). Several instruments to estimate the quality of the research have been developed.

Some of these tools are designed for specific types of studies (randomized controlled trials or meta-analyses), while others can be utilized to evaluate all major types of studies. The CARS Checklist is one of such measurements that will be employed in terms of the current systematic review (Xiao & Watson, 2017). This checklist covers such components as credibility, accuracy, reasonableness, and support. The use of such sound quality measurements will ensure the use of reliable and valid findings, which is critical for the implementation of a systematic review.

Results

It is necessary to note that research on PTG is often related to diverse groups of people, while the proposed review is narrowed down to female victims of sexual violence. Therefore, a considerable portion of studies on PTG will be excluded from the proposed study. As far as expected findings are concerned, the study will shed light on the most recurrent themes and topics that have attracted researchers’ attention during the past five years. Based on the preliminary literature review implemented to write this proposal, it is possible to assume that the major topics discussed in the academia will include: PTG symptoms, interventions to help patients reach PTG, risk factors preventing people from PTG, and protective factors that increase the chances of developing PTG.

Treatment types and the evaluation of different programs aimed at helping patients to achieve PTG can be quite numerous. It can be probable that the studies addressing this aspect will highlight such aspects as the use of therapies such as cognitive behavioral or mindfulness therapy. The role community and family ties play in reaching PTG is also expected to be recurrent in the current literature as community-based psychological interventions are becoming more widespread.

The associated topics and areas discussed in current literature will include PTG in different groups such as females based on their occupation or ethnicity, marital and socioeconomic status. Types of trauma are also likely to differ as they may range from domestic violence to war-time abuse. At that, it is expected that the majority of articles will be concerned with domestic violence and violent crimes (such as rape). Occupational sexual abuse is also anticipated to common. The period of exposure under research will be different as females can be abused in diverse stages of their development, which can have various impacts on their PTG.

It is highly likely that the number of qualitative studies may equal or exceed the number of quantitative studies on PTG in females who have experienced sexual abuse. In many cases, PTG is associated with quite unique personal traits or lived experiences.

Therefore, researchers can be interested in the identification of exact mechanisms that proved to be effective in particular cases. At the same time, the number of quantitative studies will also be significant due to researchers’ and practitioners’ willingness to develop effective treatment and guidelines to help patients reach PTG. Hence, it is possible to anticipate that qualitative studies will be mainly associated with individuals’ experiences, risk and protective factors, while quantitative studies will deal with treatment strategies. It is also predictable that longitudinal studies will not be numerous as researchers have implemented cross-functional studies, although the concept of PTG was introduced decades ago.

It is also projected that certain gaps will be discovered in the current research on the matter. The most apparent gap is related to the comparison of risk and protective factors related to such post-trauma responses as PTG, resilience, and PTSD. The preliminary review shows that some researchers mention these aspects as limitations to their studies or areas for further exploration. However, it is anticipated that the number of studies comparing PTG, PTSD, and resilience in the target population will be rather limited. Clearly, these are expectations based on the preliminary research and actual results may differ from the ones mentioned in this section.

Discussion

The proposed study aiming at examining risk and protective factors related to post-traumatic in females who have been abused sexually will contribute to the current knowledge base associated with PTG in general and this kind of psychological change in the target population. The available studies provide quantitative and qualitative empirical data regarding the matter, but this wealth of information has not been systematized so far (Jayawickreme et al., 2020; Lahav et al., 2020).

Systematic reviews associated with PTG tend to concentrate on larger populations (victims of violence, survivors of natural disasters, cancer survivors) and more general aspects such as the psychological health of the participants, PTSD and PTG correlations, and so on (Jones & Hanley, 2017; Seddighi et al., 2019). The concept of PTG was introduced several decades ago, but researchers tend to concentrate on post-traumatic stress disorder rather than the PTG, so reviews are also mainly conducted on the mentioned psychological condition (Wu et al., 2019). Therefore, it is critical to analyze the existing empirical data related to the target population with a focus on PTG in order to enrich the knowledge base on the matter.

The analysis of available data on risk and protective factors associated with PTG among female victims of sexual violence will contribute to the development of clinical practice. Mental health practitioners will obtain a clear summary of the most recent empirical findings on the mentioned areas, so they will be able to incorporate this knowledge when delivering care. The acknowledgment of the factors affecting the development of PTG will help healthcare professionals to develop effective treatment plans and services for the target population.

Potentially, the understanding of major risk factors can have an influence on spheres other than healthcare. The educational system can also be affected as the collaboration of healthcare professionals and educators can result in the creation of effective programs eliminating the adverse impact of risk factors.

Importantly, current research suggests that females are the most vulnerable population, especially when it comes to underprivileged social contexts (Geraets & van der Velden, 2020; Rizo et al., 2021). It is also clear that PTG ensures the client’s healing, but many victims are unable to achieve post-traumatic growth. It is noteworthy that mental health professionals in diverse clinical settings will benefit from the systematization of the data on PTG in females who have experienced sexual abuse. Psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses (and other nurse practitioners), counselors, and social workers will improve their care after accessing the review (Strauss Swanson & Szymanski, 2020). Practitioners need to understand the factors preventing females from having PTG.

The review will also contribute to the development of the knowledge base due to its close attention to the methodology utilized in the reviewed studies. Scholars will identify the utilized research methods and associated outcomes, so they will choose the most effective instruments and further refine them. Importantly, diverse tools will be highlighted, so researchers will be able to choose the most suitable methodology for their setting (Lenz et al., 2020). The systematization of empirical data will also be beneficial for the continuous development of the PTG framework. Moreover, new theoretical paradigms can be developed based on the existing knowledge and aiming at diverse aspects of the problem.

The proposed review will shed light on the existing gaps in PTG research. Practitioners and scholars will have a glance at potential directions for their inquiry, which will expand the current knowledge on PTG. Moreover, this systematic review can also result in the identification of another area for systematization. These areas may be linked to other aspects of PTG, the predictors of PTG, effective treatment, diverse populations, and so on.

The strength of the proposed study is its narrow focus on a particular population and PTG. As mentioned above, numerous studies on female victims of sexual abuse affected by PTSD are available, while PTG among this population is mainly explored empirically, and no systematization has been started so far. Caswell et al. (2019) note that the use of clear and well-defined terms and criteria is essential for a review as it enhances the reliability of findings.

The analysis of empirical data is essential for practitioners and researchers, who will have a general review of the most recent data on PTG. Although the studies in English will be examined, the reviewed articles shed light on practices and knowledge that emerge worldwide (Alaggia & Wang, 2020; Ba & Bhopal, 2017; George & Bance, 2019). Both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies will be analyzed, which is another strength of the present review. Evidence-based and patient-centered treatment plans can be developed since practitioners will review short-term and long-term outcomes of specific measures in particular populations. Another benefit of this review is the timeframe under analysis as the articles published within the past five years are included. Hence, the most recent data and advances related to PTG will be reviewed and highlighted.

At the same time, the proposed study is associated with some limitations. Due to the scarcity of time and funds, the number of articles under analysis will be confined to several dozens of studies. Clearly, numerous studies have been published on the matter, but the boundaries of a study make it nearly impossible to include all the existing materials on a topic (Caswell et al., 2019). In addition, the preliminary review of the literature on PTG has suggested that certain linguistic issues can occur. Some articles are written in a language other than English, so they will be excluded although these studies could contain valuable data on the matter.

The studies under review involve people from different countries, but the majority of the articles are still associated with people living in the USA, which can negatively affect the generalizability of data and the relevance of findings for other countries. It is also important to note that the majority of the reviewed articles are associated with low-income communities, although females of more privileged groups are also affected (Armstrong et al., 2018; Basile et al., 2020). Another weakness of the current research is the inclusion of a limited number of longitudinal studies that provide a wealth of knowledge on the long-term effects of diverse psychological states and treatment plans. However, such studies are rather scarce due to the comparative novelty of the PTG framework.

Irrespective of the mentioned limitations, the systematic review of the studies on risk and protective factors associated with PTG among female victims of sexual abuse is necessary for advancing clinical practice. Practitioners need to have a systematized analysis of the most recent findings in order to employ the most effective strategies, methods, and theories. The review will unveil the existing gaps and potential areas of further research.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022, September 6). The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women. Retrieved from https://psychologywriting.com/the-risk-and-protective-factors-linked-to-post-traumatic-growth-in-women/

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PsychologyWriting. (2022, September 6). The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women. https://psychologywriting.com/the-risk-and-protective-factors-linked-to-post-traumatic-growth-in-women/

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"The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women." PsychologyWriting, 6 Sept. 2022, psychologywriting.com/the-risk-and-protective-factors-linked-to-post-traumatic-growth-in-women/.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women'. 6 September.

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PsychologyWriting. 2022. "The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women." September 6, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/the-risk-and-protective-factors-linked-to-post-traumatic-growth-in-women/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women." September 6, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/the-risk-and-protective-factors-linked-to-post-traumatic-growth-in-women/.


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PsychologyWriting. "The Risk and Protective Factors Linked to Post-Traumatic Growth in Women." September 6, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/the-risk-and-protective-factors-linked-to-post-traumatic-growth-in-women/.