Book Review: “Understanding and Loving a Person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

In 1980 the term PTSD was coined. Its symptoms had long been known, and different generations had identified it with different words.
Previous generations referred to it as gross stress reaction, battle fatigue, and shell shock.

I was born the same year as the acronym for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I’ve grown up in a generation that knows all about it without really knowing anything about it.

A few weeks ago I received this book as a free download and I decided to read it just in case it would help me help someone else one day.

However, I would now put this on a list of recommended books for every pastor.

But it is not just written with those in ministry in mind. If you or someone you know has gone through a single, severe trauma or a series of repeated traumatic events, this book will be a great resource. You can get a copy from Amazon here – “Understanding and Loving a Person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Biblical and Practical Wisdom to Build Empathy, Preserve Boundaries, and Show Compassion.”

I want to highlight a few key learnings from the book and a few quotes, but ultimately I would highly recommend you purchase your own copy.

  • The author is careful to distinguish between the types of PTSD and understands the different kinds of trauma a soldier may face in comparison to non-battle field trauma.
  • The author does not claim to be an expert, she understands everyone’s journey is different, and so shares numerous tips and tools from research to try and provide help to a variety of individuals.
  • The book aims to help the person living with someone who has PTSD, but I can see how it would also help the individual themselves.
  • PTSD often will not manifest until the trauma has passed and the person feels safe enough to process it all. So, it is not unusual for the symptoms to flair when life seems great, even years down the line.
  • PTSD can put a person on a permanent state of high alert.
  • PTSD literally rewires a person’s brain and causes physical changes that can be picked up on an MRI. The actions and reactions of someone with the condition are instinctive and often as inexplicable to them as they are to those around them. This also demonstrates that there is a physical aspect as well as emotional, mental, and spiritual. Just as we would not pray away a broken bone, neither should we reduce PTSD to only a prayer request. That is not to cast doubt on the power of prayer. It simply means that as we pray, we should recognize there are other approaches we should take, just as we do with a broken bone.
  • There is a sense in which every cell of our body remembers trauma. This explains why sometimes a sound, smell, or taste may trigger a reaction long before the individual logically processes what is happening.

There are many, many more lessons I’ve learned, but to list them all would make this post too long. Before I make some closing comments, I want to share a few quotes from the book.

The verb treat (as in to care for, improve) comes from the Latin word for “to drag.” And the word patient means “passive long-term sufferer.” So when you think of “treating a patient,” the original word picture isn’t very pretty. You visualize dragging some passive, suffering person to try to get him some form of help.

Arterburn, S., & Johnson, B. (2018). Understanding and loving a person with post-traumatic stress disorder

Instead of thinking of someone with PTSD being treated as a patient, the author encourages you to be there as a companion. The word “companion” is made up of two words that literally mean “with bread”. The idea being of sharing a meal with someone, and ultimately means just being with someone.

Companioning someone through grief, pain, or PTSD is not about assessing, analyzing, or resolving. It is not a “teaching” situation. It is about being totally present. It is about observing, honoring, and bearing witness to another’s pain.

Arterburn, S., & Johnson, B. (2018). Understanding and loving a person with post-traumatic stress disorder:

The good news is that the brain can change for the better – with help. It can repair itself or exercise, stretch, and grow other regions so that you become a more balanced person.

Arterburn, S., & Johnson, B. (2018). Understanding and loving a person with post-traumatic stress disorder:

If there is one thing I could tell a person who loves someone who has PTSD, it is this: become more curious than reactive when your loved one is triggered.

Arterburn, S., & Johnson, B. (2018). Understanding and loving a person with post-traumatic stress disorder:

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating: being a companion as someone journeys through any particular valley (PTSD, grief, or loss) is quite different from being a fixer, savior, teacher, mentor, or therapist. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just need to be a safe place for your loved one to be with and turn to when she needs you. Simply being a calm, empathetic presence is healing in and of itself.

Arterburn, S., & Johnson, B. (2018). Understanding and loving a person with post-traumatic stress disorder:

In closing, here are two things that have shocked me the most.

  1. How many men and women in the ministry I know that show some of the symptoms of PTSD.
  2. How poor of a help I have been to them.

This book has been a wake-up call to me to deepen my understanding of how people hurt, and how I can help by God’s grace.

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