Date of Award

Spring 6-5-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

John Thoburn, Ph.D.

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Jacob Bentley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Lynn Tyson, Ph.D.


Active duty service members are regularly exposed to highly traumatic events. Commonly, individuals exposed to trauma experience positive changes as a result of the trauma they experienced. The likelihood of these changes occurring can be positively or negatively influenced by characteristics of the event itself, the biopsychosocial history of the service member, and the availability of internal and external coping resources. The present study aimed to evaluate how threat to life during a traumatic event influences posttraumatic growth using a sample of active duty service members (N = 818). Participant’s ranged in age from 19 to 54 (M = 26.5) and were predominantly male (97.7%) and Caucasian (66.8%). The military rank of participants ranged from E-1 to O-6 with the average rank falling between E-5 and E-6, and participants reported being deployed an average of 1.89 times. This sample consisted of archival data collected by the United States Army as part of the Post Deployment Health Reassessment. In addition to examining the effect of threat to life on posttraumatic growth, the present study also evaluated the moderating effects of adverse childhood experiences and unit cohesion. These moderators were included in order to provide better understanding of mechanisms which facilitate or hinder posttraumatic growth, and to identify targets for intervention. Results indicated that threat to life (b = 1.72, t [804] = 1.98, p = .048), and unit cohesion (b = .415, t [804] = 5.26, p <.001) both significantly predict posttraumatic growth, and that adverse childhood experiences may decrease the strength of the relationship between threat to life and posttraumatic growth. This moderation effect approached, but fell short, of significance (b = -.65, t [804] = -1.62, p = .095). The moderating effect of unit cohesion was not significant (b = .012, t [804] = .342, p = .732). These results emphasize the importance of assessing for pre-military factors which may increase service member vulnerability, intervening to increase adaptive coping skills of service members, assessing and taking steps to strengthen unit relationships, and developing policy and strategy which allow units to stay together pre and post deployment.