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Most often, when someone suffers a significant trauma, they’re encouraged to seek treatment. But Dr. Rachel Dekel, a professor at the Louis and Gabi Weisfeld School of Social Work at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, suggests that couples and families should seek treatment together.
Secondary traumatic stress is a real threat for those who live with someone suffering from PTSD–adults and children alike. “According to Janet Cromer, author and medical health professional, Secondary traumatic stress (STS) happens when a responsible and caring person is exposed to the sights, sounds, smells, or stories from the injured person and feels responsible for diminishing his/her suffering. Secondary traumatic stress occurs in degrees of severity along a continuum from a brief acute response to a longer-lasting, more serious disorder.”
People who experience STS experience hyper-arousal, an extremely high stress level, as well as burnout, compassion fatigue, and physical and mental health problems.
Dr. Dekel’s research has revealed that when couples experience treatment together, they learn to survive together, cope together, and learn how to heal from each other, which builds greater resilience.
Unfortunately, the health care system is often set up to offer services only to the individual who suffered the trauma. But the reality is that the entire family system is affected by the experience. Those who live day-to-day with their loved one with PTSD carry the responsibility of helping them cope with recurring triggers and symptoms. Children also need the support of mental health workers who can help them deal with the grief of adjusting to changes in personality in their loved one caused by PTSD.
Your insurance company may only pay for therapy for your loved one with a PTSD diagnosis. What can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
Make every effort to care for your needs, if you are a caregiver, and the mental health needs of any children. Be sure that teachers, coaches, and other caring adults in your child’s life know that they are dealing with increased stress in their home. And consult with your family physician regarding steps you can take to deal with caregiver stress.