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Professional Counseling Brings Healing and Direction for Family Members

By Marshéle Carter Waddell

Vets wives are showing signs of their own kind of post-traumatic stress.

Spouses and family members  of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at risk of "secondary PTSD" as they cope with the changes in their loved one and the challenges of disrupted home life.

"Daily confusion, anger, guilt and grief didn't add up to the kind of life I knew God intended for us," said Marshéle Carter Waddell, wife of U.S. Navy SEAL and author of Hope for the Home Front: Winning the Emotional and Spiritual Battles of a Military Wife.  "My fears butted heads with my faith.  And though smaller than the tiniest mustard seed, my faith began to tug on the rug under the mountain standing in our way.  I took important steps toward healing, for myself and on behalf of my husband and children."

"I prayerfully sought faith-based, female, professional help.  My husband wouldn't get help; but, I could and would.  My counselor helped me to see my situation objectively.  She assured me that I was not losing my mind.  She gave me the tools I needed to interact at home in healthy, life-giving ways.  She prayed with me, asking God to give me the courage to put the Biblical counsel into practice."

Waddell's counselor, Suzanne Baldwin, R.N., M.S.W., Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker at Eden Counseling Center in Norfolk, Virginia said, "When looking at PTSD from a secular, research point of view, the goals are stabilization, decreasing the impact it has on the person's daily life and relationships.  As a Christian counselor, I absolutely believe that God can bring complete healing and growth from any pain.  In Christ, there is hope for anyone beyond what I have to offer."

For this reason, the role of the military chaplain has never been more critical as in recent U.S. history, according to LCDR Cory Cathcart, chaplain of Naval Special Warfare Group Two in Norfolk.  "We as Christians draw from a higher, undeniable power found in God which is ours for the asking.  Much of secular counseling is focused on the self alone with little regard to the life-changing power found in God.  It is the difference between the finite and the infinite."

"Traumatic events are like cancer cells that eat away at our inner being.  They do not simply go away on their own, but must be addressed and confronted," Cathcart said.  "Dialogue is the surgery and awareness is the radiation that begin to eliminate the cancerous qualities of PTSD."

"Although many try to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or excessive exercise, it is only the power of God in and through counseling, prayer and dialogue that there is ever true freedom."

"Military wives and families can learn to recognize PTSD and be better prepared to handle its effects in three ways: by acquiring information, by networking with others in similar situations, and by finding a mentor," said Cathcart.  "An older, more experienced wife who has already walked this road can help a younger woman know what to expect and how to prepare to face the effects of combat stress."

Chaplains work in both individual and group settings to help their troops overcome PTSD challenges.  "Here at NSWG-2, a health care team, comprised of a chaplain, medical doctor and a psychologist, is addressing the needs of the soldier's mind, body and spirit in a newly implemented in-house PTSD seminar," Cathcart added.

Waddell added, "Given the choice between merely minimizing the impact of PTSD versus trusting God in agreement with other believers for complete healing of my vet and family, I chose the miraculous over the minimal.   I went to my counselor regularly for two years.  This step in the process was a healing balm to my wounds.  It gave me the motivation and the strength to educate myself about PTSD."

 "I am reading everything I can get my hands on, being careful to look at all of it through the lens of Scriptural principles.  My own research is giving me the information and perspective I need to better understand my husband's pain, its source, its logic and its potential."
By the end of 2006, nearly 40,000 vets of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom were being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.  The largest percentage of these vets showed no signs of mental stress or changes until seven months after their return from combat.  Two out of every three troops meeting Department of Defense criteria for PTSD say they felt stigmatized from seeking help.

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