To better protect and heal children from trauma and its emotional impact


Role of meaning in the prediction of depression among trauma-exposed and non-trauma-exposed emerging adults.

Woo, C. S., & Brown, E. J. (in press).  Journal of Clinical Psychology.


What was our goal? All people experience upsetting and scary events. How they attach meaning to those events (e.g., believing that something was learned from it) affects how they respond (e.g., making it less likely to develop depression or PTSD). The purpose of the study was to better understand how searching for meaning and finding meaning after trauma affect the degree of depression and PTSD responses.

How did we gather our data? In this study, we surveyed 8,784 young adults (ages 18 to 25) at colleges across the U.S. The written surveys were carefully crafted to explore trauma exposure, depression, PTSD, and the search and discovery of meaning in the experience.

What did we learn? Searching for meaning was associated with depression, in that the more people search and search (i.e., ruminate), the more depressed they feel. The depression falls away once people find meaning. This pattern held true for depression – but not for PTSD.

How does this study impact our work? As therapists, we need to work with traumatized patients to help them find their own meaning in the traumatic experience. Even with friends and loved ones who are struggling after a scary event, finding meaning can ease symptoms of depression.