Updated: Mar 23
PTSD, Military, and Coparenting - Kara Moffett, Jill Bowers, Amanda Feder
What is PTSD? According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that an individual may develop after a traumatic event. PTSD has prevalent among service members and veterans, including those who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (as high as 23%; Fulton et al, 2015). Further, approximately 43% of service members are parents to at least one independent child (Department of Defense, 2014). The stress of multiple deployments or combat exposure places service members at risk for PTSD; PTSD can impact veterans’ interpersonal relationships, parenting practices, and child adjustment (for examples, see Alfano et al., 2016; Chesmore et al., 2018; Dekel & Monson, 2010; Vogt et al., 2016).
Signs to look for if you believe you or your co-parent may have PTSD (PTSD Symptoms, n.d.):
Always seem to feel on edge
Have trouble sleeping or have nightmares
Avoid things you may have previously enjoyed/ things that remind you of the traumatic event
Have negative thoughts or feelings. They could be towards family members or negative views about the world in general.
Startled by loud noises
Always on the lookout for danger. They may always have back to the wall and constantly search for the exit.
How does PTSD impact parenting and co-parenting?
A parent who has adjusted to a military culture may have difficulty readjusting to life with children running around, laughing, and being loud. This behavior can be unpredictable for a returning service member. They may try to take control of the situation and control the running and loud behaviors (Conard, 2017). These parents may tend to not show emotion or be warm and caring toward their children which may lead to emotional issues in the child (Conard, 2017).
PTDS, if left untreated, can lead a parent to act out in violent ways. This violence may be directed at the child or other parent. Seeing this violence may lead the child to develop PTSD themselves from witnessing these events including the internalization of problems, such as anxiety and depression in addition to adjustment difficulties (McGraw & Reupert, 2021).
How can PTSD be managed? Once diagnosed, there are two different treatments for dealing with PTSD. While some individuals may completely heal from their PTSD, many others will use treatments to learn how to cope with this mental illness. A few types of therapeutic interventions recommended for adults with PTSD (APA, 2017) are:
· Cognitive Processing therapy – or CPT, is done in 12 sessions and is usually done in a group session (Monson et al., 2006). These sessions have the individuals think about the traumatic event and talk about the different feelings, thoughts, and emotions associated with the event (Monson et al., 2006; Dekel & Monson, 2010). This type of therapy may not heal one from PTSD but help them cope with everyday life effectively.
· Prolonged exposure – is repeatedly talking about the traumatic event until the memories no longer upset the individual or bring the same upsetting, anxious feelings.
There are other resources that can potentially help too. Some research indicates that service dogs as military family members may contribute to the effectiveness of PTSD therapy or interventions (Nieforth et al., 2021). For many individuals, it may take a combination of therapeutic techniques.
Some resources for individuals struggling with PTSD:
· Local VA hospital: https://www.va.gov/find-locations/
· Va TeleMental Health- connects you to a mental health professional over the phone or computer: https://telehealth.va.gov/
· 1-800-WAR-VETS- Connects you to a combat vet that you can talk to and can help you with resources
· Local Family Doctor- If you do not wish to go through the VA, your family doctor should be able to provide additional resources or referrals to a mental health specialist.
· Military Families Learning Network: https://militaryfamilieslearningnetwork.org/
Alfano, C. A., Lau, S., Balderas, J., Bunnell, B. E., and Beidel, D. C. (2016). The impact of military deployment on children: placing developmental risk in context. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 43, 17–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2015.11.003
American Psychiatric Association (n.d.). What is PTSD. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
American Psychological Association (APA). (2017). Clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline
Chesmore, A., He, Y., Zhang, N., & Gewirtz, A. H. (2018). Parent discrepancies in ratings of child behaviors following wartime deployment. Journal of Traumatic Stress. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22257
Conard, P. L. (2017). Unnoticed Heroes Caring for Visible and Invisible Wounds of the Nation’s Military Heroes. MEDSURG Nursing, 26(6), 365–385.
Dekel, R., and Monson, C. M. (2010). Military-related post-traumatic stress disorder and family relations: current knowledge and future directions. Aggress. Violent Behav. 15 (4), 303–309. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2010.03.001
Department of Defense (2014). 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Available at: http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2013-Demographics-Report.pdf
Fulton, J. J., Calhoun, P. S., Wagner, H. R., Schry, A. R., Hair, L. P., Feeling, N., et al. (2015). The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder in operation enduring freedom/operation Iraqi freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans: a meta-analysis. J. Anxiety Disord. 31, 98–107. https://10.1016/j.janxdis.2015.02.003
McGaw, V. E., & Reupert, A.E. (2021). “Do not talk about that stuff”: Experiences of
Australian youth living with a veteran parent with PTSD. Traumatology.
Monson, C. M., Schnurr, P. P., Resick, P. A., Friedman, M. J., Young-Xu, Y., & Stevens, S. P. (2006). Cognitive processing therapy for veterans with military-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 898–907. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1037/0022-006X.74.5.898
Nieforth, L. O. Craig, E. A., Behmer, V. A. MacDermid Wadsworth, S., & O’Haire, M. E. (2021). PTSD service dogs foster resilience among veterans and military families. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01990-3
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Vogt, D., Smith, B. N., Fox, A. B., Amoroso, T., Taverna, E., and Schnurr, P. P. (2016). Consequences of PTSD for the work and family quality of life of female and male U.S. Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. Soc. Psychiatry Psychiatr. Epidemiol, 52 (3), 341–352. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-016-1321-5