Case Studies

Suddenly Strangers - Iraq war vets, PTSD, and the challenge of relationship

January/February 2008

Recent studies suggest that more than a third of combat veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will require mental health treatment, with one in eight soldiers experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Worse yet, most cases of PTSD aren't diagnosed until six months or more after returning home. Another fact aggravating this looming mental health problem is that only half of the soldiers requiring treatment may actually seek it, because many veterans view admitting symptoms of stress after combat as a weakness, or fear the stigma of a diagnosis and the negative impact this may have on their careers.

My own clinical experience has shown me that marriage therapists can be of tremendous help to military veterans and their families by focusing on relationships instead of the individual's PTSD symptoms. I've found that veterans who are reluctant to admit to combat-related stress problems will often enter couples counseling if they believe their marriages are at stake. Moreover, couples therapy can motivate spousal support, a factor that's crucial to helping vets recover in ways individual treatment doesn't.

Phillip and Connie

Phillip and Connie had been married for four years and Phillip had just completed his second tour in Iraq. They'd had some problems earlier in their marriage, especially after the birth of their first child. With Connie never completely in favor of Phillip's joining the military, they'd argued…

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