Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Parents: Impact and Rehabilitation

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health problem that is usually experienced after a certain traumatic event. It is usually characterized by the feeling of panic or fear, unstable behavioral changes, and the inability to control emotions. When a person has to maintain a particular social role like a worker, student, or parent, PTSD may be the cause of a number of challenges. Therefore, the goal of this paper is to study this condition and define rehabilitation interventions to reduce the negative impact and avoid significant complications. Relying on the investigations of different researchers and European studies, Bisson, Cosgrove, Lewis, and Roberts (2015) concluded that about 3% of adults globally suffer from PTSD at least once in their life. In Australia, about 12 percent of the population experience PTSD that is usually caused by serious accidents (Beyond Blue, n.d.). When an adult has PTSD, he or she can hardly perform the role of a parent properly because of the presence of certain mental, emotional and physical problems, so rehabilitation in the form of medication treatment and psychological therapies are recommended.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Essential Characteristics

During the last several years, many Australians admit considerable changes in their mental and behavioral conditions, including anxiety, depression, mania, panic, and obsession. According to the latest findings of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), an increase in chronic mental disease from 4 million in 2015 to 4.8 million in 2018 was observed. PTSD is one of the conditions from the list of the above-mentioned changes. In one of his interviews, David Morris, an American writer, and a former marine officer underlined that PTSD is a disease of time caused by the event from the past that prevents from living a full life in the present (Davies, 2015). Like any disease or a mental health problem, PTSD has a list of signs and symptoms, as well as the methods of diagnosis and treatment.

Epidemiology and clinical characteristics of PTSD are frequently discussed in various academic sources and may vary in people, depending on their personal histories and abilities. For example, Lancaster, Teeters, Gros, and Back (2016) admitted that PTSD has to be preceded by a stressful or potentially traumatic event that is characterized by sexual violence, physical or psychological injury, or death. The signs of this problem can remain unrevealed for a long period because of a variety of difficulties people experience. These symptoms include intrusive memories or reliving the same event again and avoidance of activities, people, thoughts, and acceptance of the event to control painful memories (Lancaster et al., 2016). In addition, negative changes in mood and unusual or unpredictable reactions like irritability or the lack of concentration bother people with PTSD (Lancaster et al., 2016). Duration of PTSD influences the quality of life, and healthcare practitioners aim at identifying the root causes precisely to predict consequences (Atwoli, Stein, Koenen, & McLaughlin, 2015). It is recommended for a person who thinks about the same event for more than one month to see a doctor and explain the situation in detail.

Parents with PTSD

Being a serious health concern, PTSD presents a number of challenges for a person in maintaining his or her social role as a parent. Much attention has to be paid to this issue in the discussion. On the one hand, it influences a parent, his/her mood, relationships with other people, and health. On the other hand, it may affect a child by creating new reasons for fear, anger, or uncertainty and provoke unpredictable mental health problems in a family. Parent-child functioning undergoes multiple changes, and PTSD-challenged parental behaviors provoke negative child outcomes (Creech & Misca, 2017). In modern society, parent-child relationships are frequently evaluated because they determine human development, social functioning, and abilities. Supportive and affectionate attitudes of parents towards their children result in child autonomy and good psychosocial functioning during their life (Stafford, Kuh, Gale, Mishra, & Richards, 2016). It is expected that a parent explains all the necessary social norms, traditions, and cultural beliefs to a child and contributes to his or her mental, physical, and emotional development in a proper way. Still, when a parent has PTSD, new problems occur and must be solved.

Each sign of PTSD has a specific impact on a person’s ability to complete his or her functions as a parent. Intrusive memories or avoidance may prevent a parent from observing personal changes in a child, including his or her behavior, reaction, or attitude towards an event or another person. For example, in Australia, immigration is a common issue that provokes the mix of different cultures, the presence of new people, and the changes in family dynamics (Wali & Renzaho, 2018). Parents are responsible for supporting their children and explaining their roles as a part of society. People with PTSD focus on other problems and changes or even neglect the events and people around them. As a result, children turn out to be less socialized and unable to cope with novelties.

In families, parents are exposed to a variety of traumatic events. Oster, Morello, Venning, Redpath, and Lawn (2017) informed that veterans had become a growing part of the population in modern Australia with complex healthcare needs and experiences. Military service is usually the reason for people to develop harmful behavioral habits like smoking, alcohol consumption, or exposure to other toxic substances. Sometimes, sexual harassment and abuse leave a significant footprint in such families (Oster et al., 2017; O’Toole, Dadds, Outrram, & Catts, 2018). Parents demonstrate how negative decisions and wrong actions lead to the required results or how hopelessness change human minds. The outcomes of PTSD in parents turn out to be dramatic for children, both sons and daughters, who are at risk of having PTSD, depression, and drug or alcohol abuse (O’Toole et al., 2017; O’Toole, Dadds, Burton, Rothwell, & Catts, 2018). In addition to the fact that a parent with PTSD serves as the root of psychological problems in children, this person is not always able to identify the same symptoms in his or her family, contributing to the development of other dangerous mental and psychical health problems.

Instead of focusing on the progress and support of children, parents with PTSD want to solve their own problems and choose not appropriate methods sometimes. For example, Horesh and Brown (2018) recommended considering a family as a whole in order to find out the root of the psychological problem in a parent. However, evidence also suggests that PTSD in parents may be of long-term consequences, and it becomes hard to determine the trajectories of the disease with time (Muscara et al., 2015). Therefore, the approaches to treat PTSD in parents vary, depending on the situation in a family, the cause of the problem, the composition of a family, and the readiness to cooperate and share personal thoughts and intentions.

Rehabilitation for Parents with PTSD

Treatment and rehabilitation for parents who have PTSD have to be fast and effective because their outcomes influence not only a patient but people and processes around, including child development. There are many treatment options for patients with PTSD, and parents can choose between individual and family therapies (U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2019). Individual treatment focuses on a patient only and includes communication with a parent and discussion of his or her social roles, responsibilities and abilities. The strength of family therapy is the participation of all family members, which contributes to better recognition of symptoms, control of the treatment progress, and report on new problems, if any. Psychological, physical, and medication-based treatments are the available options for parents to improve their social roles and overcome the outcomes of a traumatic event.

Psychological treatment of PTSD for parents may contain one therapy or combine several approaches. According to Watkins, Sprang, and Rothbaum (2018), adult patients can undergo such interventions as prolonged exposure that is based on emotional processing theory, cognitive processing therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. When a patient undergoes prolonged exposure, he or she uses professional help, learn new information and experience different feelings to change the structure of fear and make it no longer problematic (Watkins et al., 2018). This intervention is better to be taken alone (without other family members) so children remain unaware of parents’ psychological problems and concerns.

The goal of cognitive processing therapy is to discuss a traumatic event after it happed and try to find a sense of everything around it. Sometimes, parents are able to recognize that they did not do enough to avoid a problem or that they need to fight stronger to avoid psychological complications (Watkins et al., 2018). Communication with an expert, simulations, and planning are the major steps in this kind of rehabilitation. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is similar to the interventions of a cognitive processing program but also includes some behavioral changes during the intervention and afterward. For example, breathing retraining is one of the frequently offered skills to reduce anxiety and calm down unnecessary emotions (Mueser et al., 2015). Such an intervention is not hard to repeat regularly alone (without a healthcare practitioner) at home and continue completing the social function of a parent. This combination of physical and cognitive rehabilitation interventions helps parents in their communication with children and defining their duties and interests.

In some cases, patients are not able to cope with their problems and survive traumatic events with minimal costs for a family. Therefore, doctors endorse taking some psychotropic medications like antidepressants or antipsychotics (Leslie, Mohamed, & Rosenheck, as cited in Rosenbaum et al., 2015). Dosage and the period of following the same treatment plan should be identified and approved by a licensed healthcare provider. No independent decisions made by patients are allowed because of the complex nature of PTSD. To avoid severe complications or unpredictable reactions, Rosenbaum et al. (2015) underline the necessity to investigate the cardiometabolic effects of psychotropic medications taken by parents.

Finally, during the last several decades, new, technologically-based interventions were offered to patients to cope with their PTSD outcomes. Nijdam and Vermetten (2018) investigated the effects of movement components in treating PTSD and specific virtual reality exposure therapy. Virtual reality therapy is based on the technologies with the help of which parents can choose pictures independently and use their imagination and cognition to deal with their problems at the psychological level. First, interventions have to be taken in a special clinic under the control of an expert. With time, a patient may continue using the same technologies at home without challenging him- or herself in maintaining the role of a parent. Many modern parents prefer this method of rehabilitation, as it is not complicated, interesting, and time-consuming. A final choice depends on families’ incomes, the severity of PTSD, and the intention to participate in a treatment process.


Taking into consideration the analysis of PTSD and the outcomes this mental health problem has on parents, one should conclude that specific treatment interventions and assessments are necessary. PTSD may begin directly after a traumatic event or within one or several months. It is hard to predict the way of how human behavior is changed and provoke new habits, demands, and interests. As a rule, PTSD interferes with a person’s ability to complete his or her regular tasks, and the social role of a parent is not an exception. Intrusive memories, harmful habits, and emotional changes are observed in parents with PTSD, and children are under the threat of having inappropriate examples and a lack of control. Parental neglect or even the necessity to take care of a parent with PTSD is a challenge for a child. Patients have to take rehabilitation interventions like prolonged exposures or cognitive therapies to deal with their emotions, survive PTSD and become good parents.


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