Two important steps when a family member has PTSD
By Claire McMenemy, MSW, Our Clinic Ottawa
Claire is a registered social worker who provides counselling to Veterans and First Responders. A former member of the CAF Reserves and lawyer, Claire was drawn to “reboot” her career life to help people she saw “falling through the cracks” when they faced difficult transitions in their lives, particularly after traumatic experiences. Claire has a Masters of Social Work and a variety of additional training, including iCognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, Narrative approaches, Crisis Intervention and Spirituality. In her free time, Claire enjoys camping, trail running and canoeing with her sons and husband, who is a serving member of CAF.
PTSD can leave families feeling powerless and lost. How do we help someone who is reliving a traumatic event? What do we do when they repeatedly withdraw from family time, take risks when driving or seem constantly “on edge” at home? How should we respond when they seem more angry or negative than usual? Sometimes families wonder if they really know their loved one anymore, and if he or she will ever be “ok” again.
In fact, families can play an important role in supporting someone with PTSD.
Often it's a family member who encourages a loved one to make the first call to get help. They may accompany them to appointments and check in on how they're doing during the week - even if the person doesn’t want to talk in that moment, this offers an assurance of caring and support. Family is often the first place a loved one turns in a crisis – they can help develop a plan ahead of time to deal with a crisis, and play a role in putting the plan into effect, if needed. Family members also play a crucial role in helping someone with PTSD rebuild balance in their lives. For example, they can help the person with PTSD remember what events or activities they enjoy, and support them gradually getting back to doing them.
If you’re a family member who wants to help, two steps are important.
First, learn more about PTSD, including its symptoms, causes and treatment. This can demystify the experience of PTSD, and help you better understand where and how you fit into a loved one’s healing journey. Talk to your loved one about how you can play a role in their healing, and consider attending a therapy session with them to discuss this with the therapist.
Second, acknowledge that PTSD can impact family members. It can negatively affect relationships and even impact the family member’s own mental health. Safety and caring for yourself and your loved one are important.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.” Lao-tzu’s wisdom from over 2,500 years ago rings true for those supporting a loved one with PTSD today. Healing takes time. It's a journey.
For families, walking together can make the journey smoother and bring them closer.
MAPS - Moving Ahead of Post-Traumatic Stress - welcomes family members to participate in the healing journey when the client wants this additional support. The MAPS program starts with a free assessment with the Treatment Navigator to help develop your individualized, whole person healing plan.