Category Archives: Posttraumatic Growth Articles

Social Support And Posttraumatic Growth

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We are more likely to cope with trauma, overcome it and go on to experience posttraumatic growth if we have a good social support system around us. Indeed, those with access to good social support systems tend to have both a better sense of general emotional wellness (Henderson and Brown, 1988) and lower levels of depression (Lara et al, 1997) when compared to those individuals who lack social support.

What Are The Benefits Of Having A Good Social Support System?

Human beings are naturally social animals and it is a basic and fundamental instinct for us to try to bond, connect and form attachments with others; the benefits we may gain from such relationships to others when we have experienced trauma include providing us with :

  • a greater sense of meaning in life
  • a greater sense of safety
  • a greater sense of belonging
  • a greater sense of affirmation / self-worth
  • someone to confide in
  • someone to advise us about coping strategies
  • someone to help us understand and process what has happened to us
  • someone who can help us look at what has happened from a new and original perspective
  • someone who can help distract us from our negative ruminations and feelings
  • someone who can help to emotionally sooth us

In fact, having good social support not only improves our psychological health, but also has benefits for our physical health such as strengthening our immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser, 1992).

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Perception Of Social Support Versus Actual Social Support :

Research has also found that even if, by any reasonable, objective measure, we are receiving adequate social support during and after traumatic periods its benefits will be greatly diminished if we do not perceive it as adequate ; for example ; if we perceive someone we are close to as being unreceptive when we confide in him/her information about our traumatic experience – irrespective of whether they actually are unreceptive – our sense of emotional well-being will be diminished (Cordova et al., 2001).

From such research we are able to infer that in order for us to have a significantly increased chance of coping with trauma and experiencing posttraumatic growth, it is not necessarily enough to receive adequate social support – we must, too, believe that those providing this support genuinely care about us.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Posttraumatic Growth : Achieving Maslow’s ‘Self- Actualization’

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The concept of posttraumatic growth hinges on the idea that, although suffering trauma can be devastating, some individuals not only merely survive their traumatic experiences, but go on to achieve a higher level of personal development than they would have been able to obtain had these traumatic experiences not occurred in their lives.

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Above : Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

According to the psychologist Maslow (famous for his theory concerning the human hierarchy of needs), the highest level of human psychological need, and the hardest to attain, is what Maslow refers to as SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Below, I outline what he meant by this :

MASLOW’S CONCEPT OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION :

According to Maslow, very few individuals achieve ‘selfactualization’, but the characteristics of those who do are as follows :

People who have attained self-actualization are, according to Maslow, those who 

– feel grateful for things many may take for granted

– view problems as challenges

– make independent judgments based upon own experience rather than due to culture / societal trends

– are creative and original

– have just a few close / intense friendships rather than many relatively superficial relationships

– are comfortable being alone

– have an acute sense of humour (though not the type of humour that hurts others)

– are interested and curious about a wide range of things

– are democratic

–  are nondiscriminating / nonprejudice / accepting of other people’s differences

– are compassionate towards fellow members of society

– are spontaneous

– have the ability to derive child-like pleasure from becoming engrossed in simple activities

– are self-accepting (including accepting their weaknesses and faults – therefore not defensive and not in need of presenting and hiding behind false social image of being artificial / superficial)

– are authentic / true to oneself (as opposed to being unthinkingly and unreflectively conformist) / ability to resist and not be manipulated by social pressure

– have a strong sense of reality

– possess humanity

– possess humility

– have strong sense of purpose

– do not expend useless energy worrying about relatively trivial problems

– are focused upon personal growth and self – development rather than conventional and often hollow achievements such as wealth and status

Resource :

Downloadable self-hypnosis MP3/CD : Meet Your Human Needs.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE( FAHE)

 

 

 

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Why Some Individuals ‘Bounce Back’ And Thrive After Trauma

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I have already published many articles on this site showing how significant and protracted trauma during childhood can lead to the development of a complex form of post traumatic stress disorder in later life. But some ‘bounce back’ and even go on to thrive.

Interest in post traumatic stress disorder really took of in the 1980s and, during the 1990s, researchers noted that whilst post traumatic stress disorder shattered many lives, some individuals eventually found that their lives were enhanced following their traumatic experience. This may, at first, seem counter-intuitive, so I explain how this how positive transformation following trauma may come about.

Researchers O’Leary and Ickovics developed a categorization system to highlight the difference between individual responses to trauma. This system involved four categories :

Category One – Succumbed :

Those who had their ability to function in life devastated were said by O’Leary and Ickovics to have ‘succumbed’. (NB. this word is in no way a suggestion that individuals who who fall into this category are in anyway weak or deficient in any way whatsoever – after all, everyone’s life and ability to function can be devastated by trauma; nobody is immune).

Category Two – Survival With Impairment :

This second category represents those who, after their traumatic experiences, were able to resume some semblance of their former lives, but were not able to function as well as they had previously.

Category ThreeResilient :

This category comprises those individuals who were resilient enough to the effects of their traumatic experiences to carry on with their lives with a similar level of functioning to that displayed previously.

Category FourThrive :

Individuals in the fourth and final group were actually able to become more fulfilled in life, and function at a higher level, than prior to their traumatic experiences.

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Why Are Some Individuals Able To Bounce Back And Thrive As A Result Of Their Traumatic Experiences?

As one might very well expect, psychological researchers quickly became very interested in trying to discover just exactly what factors were at play that allowed some people to actually improve their quality of life as a result of their traumatic experiences.

Research carried out to date suggests that about seven out of ten people who have experienced significant trauma derive at least some benefit to their lives as a result.

Those who are more resilient are likely to benefit most from their experience of trauma. So what factors help to make a person resilient?

Factors That Help A Person To Be Resilient:

Research suggests that the following factors help a person to be resilient to the adverse effects of trauma :

– on optimistic nature

– a high level of self-esteem

– a sense of humour

– strong relationships / secure attachments with significant others

– the ability to be capable of trusting others

– a sense of one’s own control (psychologists refer to this as having an internal locus of control)

– a strong sense of self-reliance / self a sufficiency / perceived ability to cope / resourcefulness

– good interpersonal / social skills

In What Ways May People’s Lives Improve After Trauma?

First, the experience of significant trauma can help the individual to put the smaller problems in life into their proper perspective.

Second, because the love and support of others is so crucial to recovery from trauma, many come to more fully appreciate the vital importance of their relationships with others, which, in turn, can make them work harder to maintain and strengthen such relationships. (This may not be applicable to all trauma survivors, such as those with Asperger’s syndrome)

Third, by surviving significant trauma, many individuals gain a new sense of their inner strength in a similar way to how a person who gets through an SAS training course may gain a strong belief in their powers of endurance.

A final example of how a person’s life may actually be enhanced by surviving trauma is a greater appreciation of life in general, the development of a more helpful ‘philosophy of life’ and a strong desire to make the most of every single day.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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Recovery From Complex PTSD

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According to Peter Levine, an expert on the adverse effects of childhood trauma on our adult lives and the complex post traumatic stress disorder that can result, typically there develops various signs in victims that may indicate the recovery process is underway. The main signs of recovery that Levine identifies are as follows :

1) A REDUCTION IN THE NUMBER, AND INTENSITY, OF EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS THAT WE EXPERIENCE (an emotional flashback is when an event occurs in our lives that triggers similar painful emotions to those we experienced as a child in relation to our traumatic experiences – such flashbacks may result in regressive behaviour such as extreme, uncontrollable, childlike tantrums. For example, if we had a cold and rejecting father who was always denigrating us, we may over-react when we are criticized by our boss at work).

2) WE BECOME LESS SELF-CRITICAL (those who have suffered childhood trauma very frequently, and erroneously, blame themselves for their terrible childhood experiences and/or internalize the negative view parents/primary carers had of them when they were children – to read my article on how a child can falsely come to see him/herself as ‘bad’ and how this inaccurate self-view may be perpetuated, click here).

3) WE BECOME LESS ‘CATASTROPHIZING’ (many who suffer childhood trauma develop into adults prone to extremes of negative thinking, often referred to as cognitive processing errors.’ One such cognitive processing error is that we may be prone to ‘catastrophizing’ which means we tend to always expect the worst and to interpret situations in their worst possible light. Often, too, we attribute the worst possible intentions and motivations to the behaviour of others. As we begin to recover, this tendency diminishes).

4) WE START TO FIND IT EASIER TO RELAX (one of the worst aspects of my illness was a perpetual, tormenting feeling of the most intense agitation making anything even vaguely approaching relaxation utterly impossible, every medication was tried – and failed; even electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) was tried on several different occasions over the years – again, utter failure. When we finally do start to recover, however, the ability to relax gradually returns).

5) WE BECOME LESS DEPENDENT UPON OUR LEARNED DEFENSE MECHANISMS (it is very common for those of us who have experienced childhood trauma to develop into adults who feel very vulnerable to being hurt or exploited by others if we ourselves were hurt and exploited by our parent/s or primary-carer/s during our early lives. In order to protect ourselves, we may have unconsciously learned to develop certain defense mechanisms such as aggression  or avoidance. As we recover, however, we find we become less reliant on these psychological defenses, according to Levine.

6) OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS START TO IMPROVE AND WE BECOME LESS INTIMIDATED BY SOCIAL SITUATIONS (another common outcome of significant childhood trauma is that we can find, in adulthood, that we are quite inept when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships with others. We may, too, find social situations very intimidating, and, even, develop social phobia. A sign of recovery, however, is an easing of such interpersonal difficulties).

 

FOUR MAIN STEPS ALONG THE ROAD TO RECOVERY :

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Levine states that the main steps to recovery are as follows :

1) PSYCHOEDUCATION

2) REDUCING SELF-CRITICISM

3) GRIEVING FOR OUR CHILDHOOD LOSSES

4) ADDRESSING ‘ABANDONMENT DEPRESSION’

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1) The first step of recovery from complex PTSD, according to Levine, is psycheducation (which is sometimes referred to as ‘bibliotherapy‘. This involves learning about our psychological condition and becoming aware of how it is linked to our adverse childhood experiences. Levine also emphasizes the usefulness of learning about mindfulness).

2) The second step of recovery from complex PTSD is to, in Levine’s phrase, shrink our inner critic.’  In other words, we need to gradually learn how to stop taking such a negative view of ourselves and of everything we do – one effective therapy which can help us to achieve this is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). (To read my related article, entitled :‘How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated’, click here).

3) The third step of recovery from complex PTSD, says Levine, is to grieve for our childhood losses. These losses may include our missing out on feelings of safety, security, simple childhood happiness and a care-free state of mind as well as a loss of any self-esteem we may have once had. To read my article about coming to terms with childhood losses, click here). Levine suggests that this process may take up to two years.

4) The final step of recovery from complex PTSD is to address what Levine calls the core issue, namely our ‘abandonment depression.’ An important part of this step is also to learn how to be self-compassionate. (To read my article about abandonment issues which may we may develop as a result of childhood trauma, click here).


Resource :

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TAME YOUR INNER CRITIC | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS


 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Resentment : Effects Of Holding Onto It

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If we experienced significant childhood trauma, it is quite understandable that we may harbor feelings of deep resentment. However, such feelings can serve only to prolong and intensify the mental pain we feel. Below is a fairly well-known quote that encapsulates this idea :

‘Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die’. 

– Malachy McCourt

Feelings of resentment against another usually build up over a long period of time, often years. If we are still in contact with the person we resent, these feelings may be triggered by present events (such as again being let down by the person), perhaps giving rise to anger that seems, objectively, disproportionate to the current provocation but reflects the intensity of the omnipresent, latent, resentful sentiments that underlie this anger.

Indeed, feeling resentful involves constantly replaying and reliving in our minds the wrong that was done to us and so it can potentially give rise to strong emotional and visceral responses.

The reason we feel resentful against another person may be due to acts of commission (what someone did to us) or acts of omission (what someone failed to do for us), or both.

Feelings of resentment can torment us and make it impossible for us to achieve any semblance of peace of mind. We may, too, displace our feelings of resentment onto others, making us cynical, suspicious and incapable of forming meaningful and reparative new relationships.

So why do we hold onto feelings of resentment?

We may hold onto our feelings of resentment out of a sense of ‘moral integrity’ and a conviction that it would somehow be ‘against justice’ to allow our resentful feelings to abate (in other words, we may firmly believe that our feelings of resentment are ‘just’, therefore to jettison such feelings would be ‘unjust’).

Indeed, we may be of the view that to forgive the perpetrator would show us to be weak and make us vulnerable to incurring yet further psychological damage.

Or we may feel that to let go of our resentment would in some way seem to diminish the seriousness with which we feel the offence against us should be taken – rather like saying what we experienced ‘wasn’t that bad after all’ (which would constitute self-invalidation).

Finally, by hanging onto our resentment we may create for ourselves the illusion that we have more control and power over what happened to us than we actually do.

What Can We Do To Free Ourselves From Such Self-Destructive Feelings Of Resentment?

The bottom line is that tenaciously holding onto resentment, like a snarling pit-bull terrier with a cyanide-laced bone, is often extremely self-defeating and can act as an insurmountable obstacle between us and recovery.

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To overcome feelings of resentment it can be useful :

1) to remind ourselves that our resentment may be negatively colouring our view of others, the future and the world in general

2) to remind ourselves that we might be displacing our feelings of resentment onto others who do not deserve to be treated badly, spoiling our relationships

3) to view our insistence on clinging onto our feelings of resentment as a kind of addiction or obsession which needs to be overcome

4) to remind ourselves that the stress and mental anguish our resentment causes us is almost certainly not worth it, especially as we cannot change the wrong that was committed against us and that our resentment is likely to be hurting us much more than the person we resent

5) to consider undergoing a therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help us think less negatively

6) to remind ourselves that our belief that our feelings of resentment make us more powerful, in control and strong is likely to be an illusion

7) to remind ourselves that staying resentful, in many ways, allows the perpetrator to continue to make us unhappy, thus giving him/her continued power over us

8) to consider forgiving the perpetrator

Resources:

Self-hypnosis MP3s/CDs:

 

LET GO OF THE PAST – click here for more details.

DON’T HOLD GRUDGES – click here for more details.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Recovery : The Five Elements Of Well-Being (PERMA)

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We have seen from other articles that I have published on this site that not only is it possible to recover from the effects of childhood trauma (with the aid of psychotherapies such as dialectical behaviour therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and other treatments), but also to enter an enduring phase of posttraumatic growth in which we wish, and strive, to develop our greatest possible level of well-being.

But what is meant by ‘well-being’?

One of the world’s leading researchers is this area, the psychologist Seligman, identifies five main elements that lead to optimum well-being which can be represented by the acronym PERMA ; these are :

Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishment

Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn :

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Positive Emotions

The first element is, I think you’ll agree, fairly obvious : we need often to experience positive emotions.

Almost equally obviously, however, it is, of course, unrealistic for us to always and at all times feel positive emotions (thus going around in a kind of unthinking and mindless state of bovine contentment) and an expectation to do so would, in all likelihood, serve only to achieve its opposite – being happy all the time is hardly an appropriate (or rational) response to life, after all.

Engagement

This refers to being fully engaged, immersed and engrossed in activities in a way that we lose inhibiting feelings of self-consciousness (rather like a contented child – we’re not nearly so good at it as often stressed and preoccupied adults – does when s/he is utterly absorbed in a play activity, living entirely in the moment).

Psychologists sometimes refer to this state as ‘flow’. In this state, time may seem to ‘stop’ or ‘slow down.’ It is also frequently a state that sportsmen/sportswomen (such as tennis players) try to attain in order to perform at their optimum level.

Relationships

Seligman suggests that our best experiences are likely to involve positive relationships with other people rather than being derived from solitary activity and that such relationships are therefore crucial to our well-being.

Meaning

Seligman defines meaningful activity as activity ‘that serves something bigger than ourselves’ (such as working for a charitable, social or political cause). He also states that a meaningful activity incorporates the following elements:

a) it contributes to our well-being

b) personal gain is not the main aim of carrying out a meaningful activity so we will carry it out even if it involves personal sacrifice and personal costs (such as risking going to prison for political beliefs/actions; for example, protesting against nuclear weapons).

c) ‘meaningfulness’ is ‘defined and measured independently’ [from the other four elements that contribute to well-being, namely positive emotion (see above), engagement (see above), relationships (see above) and accomplishment (see below)].

Accomplishmet

This may lead to positive emotions, engagement and meaning, but, according to Seligman, may also be sought for its own sake.

Indeed, Seligman states that all of the five elements above may be pursued for their own sake, rather than as a means to an end.

Resources:

FIND MEANING IN LIFE

IMPROVE RELATIONSHIPS

LEARN TO ‘LIVE IN THE MOMENT’

ACCOMPLISH MORE AND ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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The Adversity Hypothesis : Posttraumatic Growth

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‘He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’

AESCHYLUS, AGAMEMNON 


The vast majority of studies examining the effects of trauma on the individual have concentrated on the negative effects such as depression, anxiety, phobias, flashbacks, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so on. However, more recently, an increasing number of studies have focused on how the experience of trauma may, in some ways, actually benefit us.

Indeed, the ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS puts forward the proposal that adversity and suffering are necessary for optimum human development.

Closely linked to the adversity hypothesis is the concept of posttraumatic growth (PTG).

The theory of posttraumatic growth suggests that some individuals who undergo traumatic experiences find that they grow and develop as a person in beneficial ways once the trauma is over. These benefits often include :

  1. Discovering/developing strengths and abilities that weren’t apparent prior to the traumatic experience and becoming a more confident person as a result.
  2. Feeling stronger as a person in the knowledge one can survive great difficulty and suffering.
  3. Developing a greater appreciation of life once the trauma is over.
  4. Strengthening of pre-existing valuable and meaningful friendships/bonds/relationships (the colloquial expression ‘finding out who your real friends are’ is of relevance here).
  5. Gaining of a better perspective on life.
  6. Gaining insight into life’s priorities and what one really wants to do with it to make it fulfilling – often leading to decisive and positive life-change.
  7. Gaining a deeper insight into life in general leading to spiritual growth and development.

Indeed, there may well be other benefits, but the above list represents the main ones so far highlighted by the research carried out to date.

It is also worth noting that research carried out by Pennebaker (1990) suggests that if we are able to ‘make sense of’ our traumatic experiences in a way that is meaningful to us we are particularly likely to benefit from posttraumatic growth.

Also, research by Helgeson (2006) suggests that individuals are most likely to start to benefit from posttraumatic growth if their traumatic experiences ceased two years ago or more.

COPING PROCESS OR OUTCOME?

Whether posttraumatic growth represents an active coping process or is a more passive outcome of the experiencing of trauma (or, indeed,  is a combination of the two) is still a matter of debate amongst psychologists; notwithstanding this, not everyone who experiences trauma also experiences posttraumatic growth.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Recovering Our Self-Esteem : 6 Key Elements.

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If we have experienced significant childhood trauma, such as parental rejection, our self-esteem is likely to have been severely damaged. However, it is possible for us to rebuild it.

Branden (1994) identified six key foundations upon which the development of a healthy level of self-esteem is built; these six building blocks of self-esteem are as follows:

THE SIX KEY FACTORS THAT UNDERPIN A HEALTHY LEVEL OF SELF-ESTEEM:

1) Being consciously engaged with the present

2) Being accepting of oneself

3) Taking responsibility for oneself

4) Having a definite and meaningful purpose in life

5) Having personal integrity

6) Having a capability to act in an assertive manner when necessary

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Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Being consciously engaged in the present :

When a young child is playing, s/he becomes ‘lost’ in the present, utterly mentally involved with the activity and living entirely in the here and now.

As adults, we tend to lose this ability; instead of living in the present we dwell on/ ruminate about the past (as is often the case for people suffering from clinical depression) and/or worry about the future (which frequently occurs, often to an obsessive degree, in people who suffer from an anxiety disorder), rarely living for now.

Whole lifetimes can be wasted in this manner, possibly spent using drink and drugs in a futile attempt to recapture this childhood mental state of unsullied psychological purity.

However, we can train ourselves to live more in the present through the practice of mindfulness meditation. Indeed, research into the positive psychological effect of mindfulness meditation had yielded impressive results.

2) Accepting oneself :

This means accepting both one’s good qualities and bad (after learning from our mistakes and undertaking not to repeat them we need to forgive ourselves, acknowledging we are a highly fallible human being, like everyone else, rather than torturing ourselves with guilt. Also, making mistakes ourselves can give us empathy for others around us who make mistakes too, and help us not to judge them.

3) Taking responsibility for ourselves :

If we deny any responsibility for our own lives, we deprive ourselves of the motivating belief that we can significantly contribute towards the shaping our own destinies.

4) Having a definite and meaningful purpose in life:

This could be finding one’s true vocation (rather than a job one would rather not do due to financial necessity) which may involve downsizing and living a less materialistic life.

And, of course, some find meaning through religion, spirituality or a political or social cause.

5) Having personal integrity :

This means living an authentic life that is true to who we are, developing our own moral code based on personal reasoning and attempting to live by it.

6) Having a capability to act assertively when necessary :

A key component of this is to value our own needs and not allow ourselves to be exploited by others. This means having the strength and courage to stand up for ourselves in a firm, but not aggressive, manner.

Resource:

hypnosis packs 200x133 - Recovering Our Self-Esteem : 6 Key Elements.Ten Steps To Solid Self-Esteem. Click here.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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