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Love Is All You Need: Social Support in PTSD Treatment

A friend of mine called recently.  He has an employee on his ranch that he really likes, but rage episodes have been interfering with the work, and my friend was worried his employee was going to assault someone.  He shared that the man is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and seems “a little different.”  The employee’s mother is worried that her son has PTSD.  My friend doesn’t want to fire the guy, but he also can’t let things continue as they are.

We talked about the challenges that a lot of men, especially veterans, face when admitting that something is wrong and asking for help.  I suggested my friend start by normalizing his employee’s experience and emphasize that getting help doesn’t make him weak, and then we brainstormed resources.
For adult survivors of trauma events, a major factor in whether someone will develop PTSD or not is the level of social support received.


Among adults who had experienced military trauma, lack of social support and unit support were significantly associated with increased trauma symptoms.  A meta-analysis that surveyed adult trauma survivors, both military and civilian, also found a relationship between social support and PTSD. A study of rape survivors found that negative social reactions was connected to higher levels of self-blame and PTSD.I heard back about a month later.  My friend referred the employee to a retired colonel who runs a non-profit for young veterans in recovery.  The employee was living at the non-profit and getting support there, and he still works for my friend.  It was clear in talking with my friend that the most helpful thing this guy has gotten is to be surrounded by others who were going through the same thing he was and understood what was up.

What exactly is social support? These are friends, family, classmates or coworkers who are in our lives by choice or circumstance.  They support us by listening to our stories and expressing empathy, and we reciprocate in a similar way. It can look like someone arriving at the door with a casserole, or offering a ride or babysitting services.

Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman describe three types of empathy:

  • Cognitive-having an understanding of how someone feels and what they might be thinking
  • Emotional-actually sharing the emotions of another person
  • Compassionate-understanding a person’s difficulty and being moved to help

People have a unique capacity for cognitive and emotional empathy when they connect with someone who has a shared experience.  Studies show that when people have a shared experience, they are better at experiencing emotional empathy for others, and knowing someone has had a similar experience helps people feel more supported.

Love Is All You Need: Social Support in PTSD Treatment

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2013). Love Is All You Need: Social Support in PTSD Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Dec 2013
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