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A Narrative Study of the Spouses of Traumatized Canadian Soldiers McLean, Holly Beth

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to provide an inclusive portrait of the experience of female spouses living with traumatized male Canadian soldiers healing from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By facilitating the articulation of the spouses' stories this research gives a voice to and fosters appreciation for this neglected population. As well, this study helps clarify the needs and possible therapeutic interventions for spouses of soldiers in psychotherapy for PTSD. Although recently there has been an increased focus on addressing PTSD in soldiers, there has been comparatively little research and clinical attention given to the soldiers' families. For this study, in-depth interviews were conducted with six spouses of former peacekeeping Canadian soldiers who received group therapy for PTSD. Using the Life Story interview method, a spontaneous picture of the spouses' experiences was elicited as part of a comprehensive relationship narrative. This provided the opportunity for understanding the experience of living with a soldier in treatment for PTSD within a couple relationship and larger social context. Narrative summaries were created from the interviews and follow-up was conducted with each participant to gain feedback on these narratives. Kvale's (1996) method for analysis was then used to analyze for themes across narratives. Participants were also given the opportunity to read each other's narratives and discuss their impressions. The narrative summaries are presented along with thematic results. The participants' stories revealed instances of aggression, primary trauma and problems related to their husbands' periods of alcohol abuse, so Figley's model of Secondary Traumatic Stress was not the best conceptual fit to explain the experiences of these women. Limited support was found, however, for Hobfoll's (1998) model of a loss spiral to help describe the descent into chronic disability associated with combat-related PTSD as well as the difficulties soldiers experience in their transition from military service. This study's implications for practice include recommendations for groups for military spouses; the need to address the iatrogenic suffering of soldiers and their spouses; treatment recommendations for soldiers with PTSD. Future research also needs to include delivery and evaluation of a group-based counselling intervention for the spouses of traumatized soldiers.

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