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What is Generational PTSD? DCoE Webinar Presenters Explain

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U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez

“As a veteran with diagnosed [post-traumatic stress disorder], 50 percent VA compensation and a four-month-old daughter, what behaviors can I follow to reduce the chances of my daughter having problems,” asked a participant during the October DCoE monthly webinar. This veteran’s question was one of many questions the webinar entitled “Generational Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Post-traumatic Growth” aimed to address.

Although there isn’t a genetic link that says just because you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) you’re going to pass it on to your children, the webinar explored how an individual’s mental health problems, such as a combat veteran with PTSD, can affect their children or grandkids. DCoE clinical psychologists Drs. Anita Brown, Christopher Burke and Darlene Powell Garlington presented and, while citing historical evidence, clinical research, personal anecdotes and hypothetical case examples, provided an interesting look at how PTSD affects individuals as well as family members.

In response to the veteran’s question, Brown said, “If a person is having difficulties with post-combat or post-war exposure PTSD, it’s [about] seeking the appropriate venues for ventilating, talking, getting treatment and monitoring family functioning... seeking help for one’s own symptoms so that they can become a better member in a family unit is crucial.”

Speakers presented a description of PTSD as an intergenerational phenomenon that has evolved conceptually throughout time.

What exactly is intergenerational PTSD?

According to Brown, it’s when secondary generations of individuals exposed to traumatic events experience similar PTSD symptoms, such as anger, anxiety, headaches, breathing difficulties, intrusive imagery and a heightened sense of vulnerability.

Brown cited three potential types of distress transmitted to a child of person diagnosed with PTSD including mental, family functioning and self-esteem.

During Burke’s presentation, he explored the historical evolution of PTSD leading up to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to examine what providers have learned about the effects of war-trauma exposure and various treatment approaches being used.

What does history tell us?

“War-related symptoms are the reaction of a normal mind in abnormal times,” said Burke.

These symptoms might not always be negative. Garlington discussed a positive outcome of PTSD by explaining the concept of post-traumatic growth.

“After being in the combat zone or [through] multiple deployments, most warriors bounce back to baseline, but some emerge even stronger and better; psychologists call this post-traumatic growth,” Garlington said. “It is a positive psychological change after experiencing significant challenges to the adaptive resources of an individual.”

The webinar offered related resources – both for service members and family members on how to address PTSD and other psychological health concerns including:

For more information, both the audio and presentation from this webinar are on the DCoE website. The last webinar of the year is scheduled for Nov. 17; details will be available on our site soon.


Comments (2)

  • E. Wiliam Pounds STM PhD DSc 05 Sep

    If there is a transcript of this presentation, I would appreciate you sending it to me.
  • DCoE Blog Editor 05 Sep

    @William, If you’re interested in the audio or speaker presentations from this webinar, please visit the Monthly Webinar section of the DCoE website: www.dcoe.health.mil/Training/MonthlyWebinars.aspx. If you have specific questions relating to our webinars, please email them to DCoE.MonthlyWebinar@tma.osd.mil.

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