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Scene, Sunday, July 8, 2007

After seeing a post on the Spouse Calls blog from a spouse of an Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, a reader in Texas wrote to tell me about her father, who is still traumatized by his experiences in World War II.

“My dad deals with anxious feelings on a daily basis,” she wrote. “Our family is attuned not only to his needs but assisting him in striving for wellness.”

The effects of all wars are long lasting for veterans and far reaching for their families, who must find ways to help the ones they love while coping with their own lives.

Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis, a psychologist who has worked with veterans and their families for 30 years, has written “Back From the Front.” The book, in her words, describes “the impact of combat trauma on the spouse and family, not just the veteran.” It also gives families information about coping and recovery.

I contacted Matsakis by e-mail to ask her about combat trauma, PTSD and the effects on families.

“Like combat vets, family members can become physically and emotionally exhausted from the strain of living with someone they love but don’t know how to help or how to relate to,” she told me.

Family members of veterans who are untreated, or who have no support for or insight into their condition, can develop some of the same symptoms associated with combat trauma, including anger, depression, hyper vigilance and insomnia, Matsakis said.

Matsakis said her book was intended to provide information on these points:

• Various reactions to combat trauma and ways to assess their severity

• Communication guidelines for talking to veterans and with children about combat-related issues

• Ways of encouraging veterans to seek help, as well as various types of help available

• Tools to help family members assess if their veteran, child, or they themselves need some kind of help, including counseling or therapy.

“Being in a spouses or partners group, where the effects of trauma on marital intimacy and family life are discussed, often helps dispel this burden of isolation,” Matsakis writes.

Matsakis told me she believes it is “critical” that family members understand that the behaviors their combat- traumatized loved one may exhibit are caused by the trauma and not by them.

“This understanding is the basis of compassion and also helps relieve family members from thinking that they are the sole cause of the veteran’s distress,” she said. “However, being understanding and empathetic doesn’t mean tolerating verbal or physical abuse or that combat trauma is an excuse for other objectionable behavior.”

Matsakis emphasizes in the introduction of her book that it is not a “self-help guide for healing.”

“If you or a family member is experiencing any of these problems, any other type of severe emotional distress from physical or sexual abuse,” she writes, “the help of a qualified mental health and medical professional will be needed.”

More information about combat trauma and PTSD can be found at www. ptsdalliance.org and www.ncptsd.va. gov and also at www.sidran.org. These links and others are also listed on the Spouse Calls blog.

Terri Barnes is a military spouse and mother of three. She and her family live in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein AB. Send questions or comments to spousecalls@stripes.com.


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