People who have experienced trauma involving serious threats to physical integrity can react in accordance with various response trajectories, including posttraumatic growth (PTG). PTG is characterized by positive psychological change following trauma that goes beyond a return to pre-trauma functioning as the result of reorganizing one's conceptualization of his or her phenomenological world (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). This study was interested in factors that contribute to PTG from a terror management theory (TMT) perspective. TMT, based on existential philosophy, posits that people defend against the knowledge that everyone must eventually die and the accompanying anxiety by investing in cultural worldviews and deriving self-esteem by adhering to the standards and values prescribed by those worldviews (Solomon et al., 2004). Based on TMT research that suggests that when people are reminded of their mortality they tend to place increased faith in their cultural worldviews (Burke et al., 2010) as well as the assumption that reminders of previous trauma would likely make mortality salient, this study employed a directed content analysis to examine cultural worldview expressions among therapy clients who had experienced trauma. Qualitative analysis using the directed coding system created for this study resulted in coding 77 cultural worldviews across the 5 sessions from 5 coding categories: other (explicit) (n=32), other (implicit) (n=20), nationality (n=13), religion (n=8), and ethnicity (n=4). The clients referred to cultural worldviews throughout their sessions, even though only one therapist directly facilitated cultural discussion. Worldview expressions amidst trauma discussions were considered potential contributors to PTG as they served a meaning making function. Also, many worldviews and cultural affiliations referenced were different than those commonly studied in previous TMT research (i.e. referenced cultural affiliations other than religion, ethnicity, nationality, or political affiliation such as gender and age/generation; did not discuss political affiliation). Multiple factors such as differences among clients, contextual factors of the sessions, and therapists' style were considered to potentially have influenced the variance in worldviews expressed. The findings described in this study can contribute to ongoing psychotherapy training and research bridging the gaps among PTG and TMT theory, research and clinical practice with trauma survivors.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (PsyD) -- Psychology; Psychic trauma -- Cross-cultural studies; Life change events -- Cross-cultural studies; Death -- Psychological aspects

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hall, Susan;