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Treatment for PTSD: Shifting Family Roles

When a someone experiences a traumatic event, such as a crime victim, first responder  or service member returning from combat, many family members find themselves playing different roles in the family, with new or different responsibilities. If treatment for PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a concern, family members may begin to take on increased caregiving responsibility, and in some circumstances may even do well in that role.

The effects on those family members who take on the primary caregiving role may at first seem minimal, or even enjoyable, but may become of greater intensity and longer duration than was initially anticipated. It may start to become more of a challenge to deflect Post Traumatic Stress Disorder triggers, like avoiding large crowds or specific topics of discussion. Refusal to get treatment for PTSD does not just affect the individual, but their symptoms directly affect their family members as well, especially the ones who have taken on that caregiver role.  As time marches on, family members may begin to feel “burned out” or develop a sense of “compassion fatigue” in more prolonged cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  One may get caregiver burnout due to over doing it when caring for their loved one with PTSD.  This may cause them to start feeling physically, psychologically, and medically debilitated.

Household tasks may shift or increase for the spouse, and sometimes the older children of the individual who does not receive treatment for PTSD. Tasks like paying bills, cleaning, and caring for the children or extended members of the family may fall to the hands of the caregiver who has taken on the responsibility. This shift not only occurs in the home setting but may also include activities and responsibilities that are directly related to the family, but it also carries over to other settings like children’s schooling and outside activities, as well as the service member’s medical appointments. This shift can cause serious issues for the caregiver and affect their work performance as well.

Not receiving treatment for PTSD patients have reported increased intensity of their symptoms throughout their life and this may be as a result of changes in health, social roles, relationships, and more time to reflect on combat experiences.  The caregiver role usually shifts or increases accordingly and depending on the recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the caregiver could show signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue over the course of their life.

There are some caregivers who have reported experiencing greater stresses on family relationships, including parenting roles and marriage that have been attributed to the toll of prolonged caretaking. Not receiving treatment for PTSD symptoms can also negatively influence intimacy in a relationship. Marital problems and difficulties sharing child care responsibilities are common occurrences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients and their families.

Overall functioning and wellness of individuals and their families can be negatively affected by PTSD.  This, in turn, can affect the quality of their personal relationships. Service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are more likely than veterans without PTSD to experience major symptoms of depression.

Helpful Strategies for Caregivers

There are certain strategies for self-care that family caregivers of an individual with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other behavioral disorder can utilize to prevent or reduce caregiver burnout. Those experiencing caregiver burnout can rely on the acronym, “PEAS” to help them remember the tips for these strategies. It stands for participate, educate, attend and seek.

Participate in the psychotherapy treatment for your service member. Encourage them to get treatment for PTSD when needed.

Educate yourself about treatment for PTSD, what to expect and the treatment services available in your area.

Attend to any warning signs of relapse or risks of suicide, changes in mood or behavior.

Seek support from social groups and engage in positive self-care behavior.  Remember that it’s okay to ask for help.

Spouses and younger family members may have an opportunity to exercise greater independence and responsibility as a result of this role shift.  While it may add additional stress and obligations, there are also valuable life lessons that can be learned as a result of dealing with PTSD.  People are resilient, especially those who have suffered trauma, so family members and individuals can actually grow as a result of treatment for PTSD.  This is referred to as “post traumatic growth”.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military Service Members

Stress response due to combat during deployment is normal for service members; however, that stress response can last for several weeks post deployment and may either return periodically or develop into a chronic condition.  Service members who have been exposed to traumatic events, especially in combat, are at risk to develop PTSD, which is a stress reaction to traumatic experiences. This disorder is characterized by symptoms of re-living the event, hyper-arousal (increased fight-or-flight response), and avoidance of people, places or situations that remind them of the trauma.  With appropriate treatment for PTSD about 50% of those who have acute PTSD are better within 6 months. However, about 30% develop chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which, if left untreated, may affect them for the rest of their lives. PTSD is said to be chronic after three months.  Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be difficult to treat and may require a higher level of care.

Because our treatment for PTSD and depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from PTSD, depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of PTSD, depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for PTSD and depression can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.