The Impact of Combat Trauma on Veterans' Family Members: A Qualitative Study

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2009


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Constance Fischer

Committee Member

Daniel Burston

Committee Member

Thomas Bartsch


Veterans, Family, Trauma, Combat, Spouse, Qualitative


This study sought to understand the experience of family members who live with a veteran who has suffered combat trauma and thus may have a psychiatric diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The literature revealed much about the veteran who had PTSD; but very little was known about how the veteran's PTSD impacted the lives of his or her family. The researcher advocated that this knowledge was vital to promoting the well being of both veterans and their families, and asserted that this understanding must be gained directly from affected families if meaningful and effective family services are to be developed.

The main objective of this study was to better understand the experience of living with veterans who have suffered combat trauma, as gleaned from their family members' own lived experience. Eight spouses of combat veterans who had been in treatment for combat PTSD at a Veterans Administration hospital agreed to participate in this study. Each participant provided a written description of their experience, watched an informative videotape series, and seven of the participants were able to complete a follow-up telephone interview. Six of the participants were able to attend a focus group discussion, during which the preliminary findings of this study were presented for their evaluation and amendment.

The researcher maintained a phenomenological attitude in conducting the qualitative analysis of the study data. The main finding of the study is a shared narrative of the experience of living with a veteran who has suffered combat trauma. This shared narrative illustrates the experiences of inaction, isolation, strained relationships, emotional disconnection, fear, illness, and duality as most salient for this group. Other informative materials produced in the course of the analysis include individual narratives and tabulation of main themes. The findings of the study support the researcher's long-term goal of making a case for, and aiding in the development of, resources and services targeted to minimize the negative impact of combat trauma upon veterans and their family as a whole.





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