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'Post-Traumatic Growth' Debated

As Hilbert Caesar told his harrowing war story one night recently in the living room of his apartment, he patted the artificial limb sticking from a leg of his business suit. ''This, right here," he said, ''this is a minor setback."

Eighteen months after Caesar's right leg was mangled by a roadside bomb near Baghdad, and after weeks of coming to terms with what he thought was the end of his life, the former Army staff sergeant believes he has emerged a richer person -- wiser, more compassionate, and more appreciative of life.

Although the shattering psychological impact of war is well known, specialists have become increasingly interested in those who emerge from combat feeling enhanced. Some psychiatrists and psychologists think those soldiers have experienced a phenomenon known as ''post-traumatic growth," or ''adversarial" growth.

Not all mental health specialists believe in post-traumatic growth. George Bonnano, a psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University, is skeptical. He said such reactions to trauma are better explained by personal resilience.

''Most people are able to maintain equilibrium pretty well after a traumatic event," he said. In addition, ''it's fine to just recover. Bad things happen, and we get over them. We get better, and we put it behind us, and we move on."

This article, written by Michael E. Ruane, appeared in the November 27th, 2005 publication of The Washington Post.

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