Systemic effects of trauma: a quantitative study of individual and relational post-traumatic stress



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Texas Tech University


Traumatic events affect not only the individual, but also people who have significant relationships with the traumatized individual e.g., spouses, partners, children). In the current literature, the systemic effects of trauma have received limited clinical and empirical attention. To address the impact of traumatic experiences on the couple relationship, particularly individual stress and trauma symptoms, secondary trauma symptoms, relationship satisfaction, and couple interaction patterns, comparisons were conducted between three clinical groups: veteran couples (n = 17), childhood sexual abuse survivor couples (n = 17), and a control group of couples in therapy with no reported history of war-trauma or childhood sexual abuse trauma (n = 17).

In this study, there were more general stress symptoms, more trauma symptoms, and more types of trauma experienced in trauma survivors, particularly veterans. Also, partners of trauma survivors reported higher levels of individual stress symptoms and secondary traumatic stress symptoms, particularly the partners of war-traumatized veterans. These results support the need for further empirical and clinical exploration of the individual and secondary effects of traumatic events.

The results from the measures of relationship impairment indicate conflicting conclusions. Although it was expected that trauma survivors would report more relationship impairment than the clinical control couples, these results were not statistically supported.

Finally, the effects of both partners having a history of trauma was addressed in the research. Although the sample of dual trauma couples was small and limited to veteran-childhood sexual abuse couples, there were significant results for the general stress and trauma symptoms; however, these results were the converse of what was expected. Veterans in the veteranchildhood sexual abuse couples reported significantly lower BSI and PPTSD-R scores than the other veterans. The relational measures did not produce consistently significant results. These results suggest potential dynamics that occur in dual trauma couples that necessitate further exploration.

In general, the results of this study provide support for the negative impact of trauma on the individual and moderate support for the impact of this trauma on the spouse/partner. Future research should compare clinical and nonclinical samples and expand the definition of trauma to include analyses based on number and types of traumatic events.



Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Marriage, Stress (Psychology), Psychic trauma