PTSD: Are you or a family member stuggling with PTSD symptoms? Want help? This is part 3 of a three-part series by guest author Greg Gifford and covers finding an advocate and handling daily responsibilities. Part 1 delved into understanding PTSD basics and Part 2 looked at flashbacks. This article appeared first here on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.
Identify an Advocate
One of the common associations of PTSD symptoms is domestic violence, especially for military members suffering from PTSD. There is much research that needs to be conducted as to why certain demographics are more prone to violence than others, but do note that violence may be an issue that you need to consider. Part of that consideration is who to call alongside of your family for help. At this point, Dr. Garrett Higbee has introduced the idea of an advocate (see Counseling the Hard Cases, Scott and Lambert, p. 172).
Although Dr. Higbee uses the idea and its implementation in a different context, there are huge implications for the person struggling with PTSD symptoms. An advocate is simply a person from the counselee’s local church who attends some of the counseling sessions with the counselee. He or she helps them to implement in their daily living what is being taught in the formal time of counseling.
In the instance of a person struggling with PTSD symptoms, it could be helpful to identify a person who could also function as an advocate. This advocate would function in the same capacities but would be on call for help with their loved one. For instance, if your husband is having flashbacks again and now his anger is quickly escalating and he is threatening, hitting walls, and throwing things, it would be a good time to call the advocate. The presence of another person who is outside of the immediate family can have cooling effects to the circumstance, but also having someone who can ensure that people are not being physically or verbally abused.
Avoid Significant Free Times
Because PTSD symptoms very much include a battle of a person’s thought life, be careful to help them to ration free time well. Meaning, look at the hours in a day and see where the gaps are in your loved one’s schedule. When are they going to have a lot of free time? When will they be prone towards introspection?
Seek to help them to positively engage those times and fill them with fruitful and helpful things. Encourage them to start new hobbies, seek out new opportunities to serve the church, find some books that would be great to read, exercise, invite friends over for dinner, and other ways that will be a fruitful way of engaging this free time.
The idea is that they will not have the time to sit around and rehash the painful memories. While this is not an end in itself, it is a very appropriate means to an end. In fact, introspection must be done in proportion for all of us, not only those suffering with PTSD symptoms. So help them to guard their time well as you help them to shepherd their thought life.
PTSD and Daily Responsibilities
One of the chief concerns you should have with your loved one is whether or not they are completing their daily responsibilities. Are they going to work on time? Are they going to school? Do they complete their responsibilities?
Some of this will tie back into helping them to learn to manage their free time, but also seeking to help them to fulfill their responsibilities. Employers will only be gracious for so long. Schools will only be gracious for so long. If your loved one is consistently failing to fulfill their responsibilities it will snowball into a very difficult situation quickly.
Moreover, be willing to ‘check-in’ on them. This is not a mild form of enabling but rather a form of accountability. Try things like going by their work to drop off a surprise coffee or asking them if you can come eat with them at lunch break. Take them to work and pick them up. Go by their house and help with some of the chores, and also review homework and contact teachers to ensure that your loved one is fulfilling their obligations.
The best policy is to be very straightforward with your loved one and tell them that you want to serve them and help ensure that they are fulfilling their obligations, whether they want you to or not. You do not want to breach their trust in an attempt to serve them, but you can be very candid as to why you would like to serve them in this way. And even if they would prefer that you not come by their work or school, be creative and wise as to how you can fulfill that intent in a different manner. For example, you might ask a co-worker, look at pay stubs, and so on.
The principle is, however, that they must be fulfilling their daily responsibilities even in the middle of their struggles with PTSD. God has provided sufficient grace to do so and to neglect their responsibilities is only going to make matters worse. Your close accountability may seem like police work initially. However, it just might prevent the downward spiral of PTSD to joblessness to drugs or any other combination.
Remain faithful as you see your loved one suffer. In a very real sense, they have experienced some of the most heinous events a person can experience. They are sufferers. Yet, don’t let them stay there. Graciously call them and prompt them towards a posture that engages their suffering and uses it to grow in Christlikeness and to glorify God. And in the process, you will see that God is working in them to will and to work His good pleasure.
Join the Conversation
What additional suggestions do you have for wise help that avoids the extremes of enabling a person struggling with PTSD symptoms or of abandoning/ignoring/pretending that the person’s symptoms are not real or do not require understanding, compassion, and assistance?