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Families in The Bargain - Finding Support!

By Dr Mike Colson

The primary source of support for the returning soldier is likely to be his or her family. Families can help the veteran not withdraw from others. Families can provide companionship and a sense of belonging, which can help counter the veteran's feeling of separateness because of his or her experiences. Families can provide practical and emotional support for coping with life stressors.

If the veteran agrees, it is important for family members to participate in treatment. It is also important to talk about how the posttrauma stress is affecting the family and what the family can do about it. Adult family members should also let their loved ones know that they are willing to listen if the service member would like to talk about war experiences. Family members should talk with treatment providers about how they can help in the recovery effort.
What Happens in Treatment for PTSD

Treatment for PTSD focuses on helping the trauma survivor reduce fear and anxiety, gain control over traumatic stress reactions, make sense of war experiences, and function better at work and in the family. A standard course of treatment usually includes:
· Assessment and development of an individual treatment plan
· Education of veterans and their families about posttraumatic stress and its effects
· Training in relaxation methods, to help reduce physical arousal/tension
· Practical instruction in skills for coping with anger, stress, and ongoing problems
· Discussion of feelings of anger or guilt, which are very common among survivors of war trauma
· Detailed discussions to help change distressing beliefs about self and others (e.g., self-blame)
· If appropriate, careful, discussions of the trauma to reduce the fear of trauma memories
· Medication to reduce anxiety, depression, or insomnia
· Group support from other veterans often felt to be the most valuable treatment experience

Mental health professionals in VA medical centers, community clinics, and Readjustment Counseling Service Vet Centers have a long tradition of working with family members of veterans with PTSD. Couples counseling and educational classes for families may be available. Family members can encourage the survivor to seek education and counseling but should not try to force their loved one to get help. Family members should consider getting help for themselves, whether or not their loved one is getting treatment.

Self-Care Suggestions for Families:
· Become educated about PTSD.
· Take time to listen to all family members and show them that you care.
· Spend time with other people - including extended family, friends, church & community groups.
· Join or develop a support group.
· Take care of yourself as a family member.
Pay attention to yourself - diet and exercise, plenty of rest, time to do things that feel good to you.
· Try to maintain family routines, such as dinner together, church, or sports outings.
· If needed, get professional help as early as possible.