Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Coping

How To Help Someone With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The person with PTSD needs several healing experiences. If you are a co-worker, boss, caring friend, family member, or professional helper, you'll be more effective if you're armed with a general understanding of what trauma survivors need and of strategies that can contribute to their recovery.

A. Initial debriefing and stabilization.

A person who has experienced trauma needs a chance to talk about what has happened. And, they may need to talk about it over and over. Be patient. Having someone listen empathically without advice-giving is needed at the initial stages. Avoid platitudes like, "Everything happens for a reason". Simply allow the person to vent, to fully express and feel emotions. When and if tears come, normalize and encourage it. It's good release and relief.

B. The individual needs a sense of increased control over his/her life, beginning with the body, mind, and emotions.

Share with the individual the symptoms of PTSD and the reasons for it. This will help the person not to feel so crazy! Further, the person will need to learn some practical skills for coping with and managing anger and stress.

C. The person needs to increase his/her sense of safety in work, home, and living environment.

Help the person learn to identify areas of potential danger or victimization and take rational and active steps toward self protection. Having healthy caution and taking practical steps for protection without unreasonable paranoia is the goal here.

D. The individual needs to re-conceptualize the traumatic events in less self-blaming ways.

Compassionately explain and help the person rethink the events that happened. Many people apply the standard of what they could accomplish in normal circumstances to what they were able to do under horrific conditions. Providing the facts about what any human could accomplish in such disastrous circumstances can help to establish a balanced perspective.

E. As time goes on, the person needs to understand how their current life struggles have been affected by the trauma and its aftereffects.

Throughout the recovery from PTSD, people have a tendency toward self blame. Gaining a sense of compassion for oneself as most areas of life have become more complicated and seeing how the trauma has affected them can reduce that tendency. Sometimes I explain it to my clients this way: "You're having a normal reaction to a very abnormal circumstance."

F. The traumatized individual needs support through the necessary grieving process.

Being able to grieve the losses is essential to recovery from PTSD. As a friend or helper, listening and "feeling with" the person is the best gift you can give. Again, advice is not helpful. Reflect back to the person what he/she seems to be expressing or trying to express. Sometimes you can help by just being with the person in supportive silence.

G. Later, the person needs to reform some meaningful goals and connections with other people.

Be very aware that, even after the person is able to focus on goals again, these will need to be small steps, not big ones. "People connections" can be re-established first with trusted friends, typically one-on-one or in very small groups. Even previously outgoing people can feel stifled or even panicky in crowds.

H. The person with PTSD may need assistance from a mental health professional trained in the treatment of PTSD.

Using the strategies I've described, you can be a helpful and caring friend, colleague, or family member. However, many mental health professionals like psychologists, licensed social workers or counselors, or psychiatrists have specialized training in PTSD treatment. Encourage the hurting person to seek help...the sooner after the trauma, the better.

May God's richest blessings rest on you, and may His strength sustain you as you reach out to those around you with active love and compassion.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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