It appears that use of the term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has risen sharply over the past few years.
As talk of PTSD is spreading like wildfire, interest in treatment and research are on the rise as well. The acquisition of an APA-accredited internship is not only highly coveted for being the gold standard of doctoral internships, but it also opens the gates for practicing at Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics.
While PTSD cases may be most widely recognized and treated among military combat veterans, it is a condition that can affect anyone. Notably, PTSD survivors often either are married or in a long-term relationship. Whether this attribute is related to the occurrence of PTSD is yet to be determined, though it is this relationship that can shape the treatment and outcome.
New research is showing that integrating the patient’s spouse or significant other into the treatment plan can be mutually beneficial for both parties. According to Meis, et al. (2013): “Partner-involved or couple therapies may be especially helpful for correcting misperceptions about PTSD symptoms and improving relationship adjustment and partners’ support” (p. 7).
Since the intimate relationship between a person suffering from PTSD and their significant other often is plagued with tension caused by the disorder, helping the significant other understand what their loved one is going through, what to expect, and how they can help aids in the therapy process.
If a partner of a PTSD patient stays out of the treatment loop and misconstrues what their loved one is going through, the strain on the relationship can act as a catalyst for the patient’s symptoms. Instead of only battling their inner demons, the patient has to spread their mental resources and fight multiple battles, internal and external. This scenario habitually results in a dissolution of the relationship since their spouse or significant other feels they can no longer tolerate the emotional turmoil.
Augmenting the intimate partner is especially helpful since PTSD patients worry about that the disorder is frequently misunderstood and surrounded by stigma. Veterans with combat-related PTSD find that they have to cope with others labeling them as crazy, dangerous, and weak. (Mittal, Drummond, Blevins, Curran, Corrigan, and Sullivan, 2013, p. 5). These feelings only slow improvement of the condition and can cause the patient to regress or experience additional symptoms. Current research is showing that the shame experienced in a traumatic experience becomes paramount in the patient’s internal feelings.
The shame and guilt that post-traumatic experience survivors frequently have can cause the most malignant effects. The effects are greater yet when the person associates their experience with making a poor decision or having displayed moral ambiguity. (La Bash, and Papa, 2013, p. 2.) The person often feels little self-worth and a tremendous amount of self-condemnation. The patient’s own negative thoughts, often perceived as supported and confirmed from others, results in a perpetual cyclic deterioration of their well-being.
PTSD symptoms can vary depending on the stage of the disorder. These changes can occur with or without the aid of treatment and can come in the form of progression or regression. If therapeutic methods have to change to adapt to the stage of the disorder, then utilizing a patient’s significant other might be most effective, or even only effective at precise junctures in the treatment process. (Schumm, Walter, & Chard, 2013).
When PTSD survivors are working through treatment along with their significant other they have someone to redirect them and give needed positive affirmation. As research continues to measure the benefits of having a positive-minded person, investigators may discover that not only intimate partners are successful in aiding PTSD treatment. While statistically most PTSD survivors are involved in a long-term relationship, there is still a large minority population that could use another approach.
La Bash, H., & Papa, A. (2013). Shame and PTSD symptoms. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, And Policy, doi:10.1037/a0032637
Meis, L. A., Schaaf, K., Erbes, C. R., Polusny, M. A., Miron, L. R., Schmitz, T. M., & Nugent, S. M. (2013). Interest in partner-involved services among veterans seeking mental health care from a VA PTSD clinic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, And Policy, 5(4), 334-342. doi:10.1037/a0028366
Mittal, D., Drummond, K. L., Blevins, D., Curran, G., Corrigan, P., & Sullivan, G. (2013). Stigma associated with PTSD: Perceptions of treatment seeking combat veterans. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 36(2), 86-92. doi:10.1037/h0094976
Schumm, J. A., Walter, K. H., & Chard, K. M. (2013). Latent class differences explain variability in PTSD symptom changes during cognitive processing therapy for veterans. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030359