5 Steps to Caregiving a Person with PTSD – Helping a Person with PTSD

September 13, 2023 Harry Croft, M.D.

Being a caregiver to a person with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t easy. Everyday interactions, from things as simple as disputes over how one loads the dishwasher to parenting decisions between a caregiver and the person with PTSD, can be challenging. In fact, a caregiver might feel like they don’t even recognize the loved one they’re living with post-trauma. However, there is help, and there is hope. Caregivers can take an active role in helping people with PTSD get better.

Here are the five steps for caregiving a person with PTSD.

1. Learn About PTSD

When PTSD enters a relationship, the person with PTSD may not even know they have it. It can be easier for the person outside the illness to see the signs and symptoms. So, it’s critical to learn what causes PTSD, what the signs and symptoms are, and how they affect the caregiver and the family as a whole.

A person with PTSD may:

  • Avoid social interaction
  • Have flashbacks and nightmares
  • Be detached and not experience joy the same way
  • Be untrusting
  • Be detached or distant
  • Startle easily
  • Be easy to anger, even at minor things

For more on the signs and symptoms of PTSD, see here.

2. Deal with the Impact of PTSD

It’s important for a caregiver to realize when the illness is talking and when their loved one is. By understanding the signs and symptoms of PTSD, caregivers can spot them and understand that their loved one with PTSD is not a bad person; they are just dealing with a bad illness. 

A caregiver can do the following things to help deal with the impact of PTSD:

  • Create a safe, calm, peaceful, supportive, and encouraging environment
  • Believe that change is possible – while change takes time and work, PTSD is treatable
  • Encourage treatment for the PTSD and tell their loved ones that they will be involved when and if it is appropriate

3. Interact More Effectively

When a person with PTSD is in the midst of a full-blown attack of symptoms (like during an episode of reexperiencing or rage), it may be impossible to start effectively communicating. However, when a calm and peaceful moment presents itself, the caregiver and person with PTSD can learn how to interact more healthily.

To interact more effectively and help a person with PTSD:

  • Be patient, open, and honest.
  • Start sentences with “I feel . . ..”
  • Learn about the interactions that work best for you and the person with PTSD. For example, learn about the warning signs that a person with PTSD is getting fearful, anxious, or enraged; plan what to do when those warning signs occur.
  • Practice healthy coping strategies and avoid unhealthy ones like drinking, using drugs, isolation, etc.

4. Develop Achievable Action Plans

A caregiver and a person with PTSD can’t successfully deal with all issues on the fly; plans for eventualities are 100 percent needed. In conjunction with the person with PTSD, caregivers can:

  • Create short- and long-term goals and plans.
  • Make plans for how to deal with sensitive areas such as isolation, withdrawal, lack of affection, lack of pleasure, etc.

And it’s critical to remember that some PTSD-related behaviors require special attention and plans. These behaviors surround topics like:

  • Anger
  • Substance abuse
  • Violence in the home
  • Suicide

When making plans, remember that positive outcomes are possible, and things do get better with time and treatment.

5. Take Care of Yourself

Caregivers may focus almost all their time on helping the person with PTSD, and while that’s understandable, caregivers need their own space, time, and help, too. Caregivers may need therapy, time alone, time off work, mindfulness practices, or other care to successfully navigate PTSD. When a caregiver cares for themselves, it is not an act of selfishness. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If a caregiver is not well, they can’t possibly be truly there for the person with PTSD.

Other types of care for the caregivers include:

  • Internalizing the fact that PTSD symptoms are not their fault
  • Educating children about the effects of PTSD and making it clear those effects are not their fault
  • Becoming part of a support system

A Caregiver Can Help a Person with PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a disorder that is not healed with time alone. Treatment and coping techniques are needed to improve the symptoms of PTSD. A caregiver can be a critical component of this success. 

For trusted information on PTSD, see:

APA Reference
Croft, H. (2023, September 13). 5 Steps to Caregiving a Person with PTSD – Helping a Person with PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: Harry Croft, M.D.

Dr. Harry Croft is a keynote speaker, consultant, and media guest and contributor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He currently acts as a trainer and consultant to businesses with regard to veterans, PTSD, and employment-related issues.

Find Dr. Croft's book, I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall, here, and find out more about him on his website.

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