PTSD: Are you or a family member stuggling with symptoms of what our society labels post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Want help? In this 3-part series, guest writer Greg Gifford provides a biblical perspective for understanding and helping someone with symptoms of PTSD. This article appeared first here on The Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.
Help for Family Members
The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is here—to stay. It was once rare and used to describe combat veterans, but it is now working its way into the limelight of DSM-V disorders. Consequently, we are to be a people who wisely listen and engage what those with symptoms of a PTSD experience, particularly those within our own families.
Your family is the counseling room and you will be a counselor of some kind. What will you say? How will you respond? Here are some practical steps for your family’s ministry to your loved one suffering from symptoms of PTSD.
Understanding Biblical Change and Their Struggles
All effective ministry happens in the context of understanding (Proverb 18:2, 13). First, one of the best things a family can do is to understand the process of biblical change as they seek to walk their loved one through that process. Ephesians 4:22-24 enumerates that process with the overarching principles of “putting off, being renewed in the spirit of your minds, and putting on the new self.”
Second, your family needs to seek to understand what your family member is going through. Watch what situations elicit responses such as flashbacks, negative thinking, irritability, and anger. What circumstances seem to be difficult for them? Is it car rides? Is it large crowds? What really sets off your loved one or what really tempts them towards PTSD symptoms?
Look and listen. You have a story line unfolding before your eyes and only when you take the time to observe and note what are the struggles and weaknesses of your family member can you help them. They are not a walking diagnosis or a personification of the DSM; they are real people with idiosyncrasies.
Exhibiting “Demanding Patience”
Paul Tripp notes that:
The grace that adopts me into Christ’s family is not a grace that says I am okay. In fact, the Bible is clear that God extends his grace to me because I am everything but okay (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 158).
We must exhibit the “demanding patience” that Christ exhibits towards us. We endure, we forbear, we are longsuffering, but we seek growth—true growth. This growth is none other than a willingness to submit to the will of God and His purposes for their life (Philippians 1:16). He has started something in their life, if they are a believer, and has promised change will happen: they must be growing into the image of Christ.
Remember that there is no “timeline” for recovery and “recovery” is not the goal: honoring God is the goal, and growth into the image of Christ is the goal. Do not measure their progress by how much they struggled with PTSD a year ago, but by their growth in Christ. Your patience should be a patience that calls them to growth.
The Help of a Medical Doctor
Seek out the help of a wise medical doctor, preferably a Christian medical doctor. You will need their insights to help observe biological influences to your loved one with the symptoms of PTSD. While the Bible never teaches a deterministic model of biology, it does recognize the relationship between the inner man and the outer man (cf. Psalm 51). Therefore, we do not want to minimize that relationship either.
In addition to a medical doctor, seek to speak with a nutritionist and a sleep specialist. There are often vast improvements for people who simply practice good nutrition and ensure that they are resting adequately. These are both biblical ideas of stewarding our bodies as temples in which the Holy Spirit dwells, and they are very wise to consider.
A typical symptom of PTSD is hyper-agitation that prevents good sleep therefore insomnia ensues. Once insomnia has set in, there will be a compounding effect of the symptoms of PTSD. Therefore, preventative maintenance is very ideal, even if this means some type of sleep aid. Remember that stewarding the outer man well has significant influences on the inner man.
But whether or not you do visit a nutritionist or sleep specialist, you must be extremely mindful of sleep patterns. If your loved one is not sleeping enough, you will have to intervene very quickly. Insomnia is one of the dominant characteristics of PTSD, and it is a very real and dangerous aspect of PTSD. You cannot take insomnia flippantly or lightly.
Therefore, be cognizant of their sleep patterns. Note how many hours they are sleeping within the context of how many they would sleep before. If necessary, log their hours for your own records, but keep a watchful eye to ensure that your loved one is getting the proper amount of rest.
If they are not resting well then consider a myriad of factors: how much caffeine are they eating or drinking? How close to bedtime are they eating? Are they watching television or searching the Internet right up to bedtime? How are they winding down a part of each day? Some of these unknown habits are contributing to their sleeplessness and need to be discarded until your loved one has established proper sleep patterns.
The Rest of the Story
In Part Two, we’ll explore some practical counsel—wisdom principles—for helping loved ones who are struggling with symptoms of PTSD.
Join the Conversation
When it comes to diagnostic categories first established by the world, what should Christians do: ignore those categories, redeem those categories by redefining them biblically, use those categories as they are, or something else? Why?