An exploration of how veterans diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder experience therapy

  • Georgina Hallett

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In 1980, the various symptoms of combat stress were formally classified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), now an established condition with supporting research on its prevalence, possible causes and treatment options. As a diagnosis, however, it is marked by persistent questions about its validity as a conceptualisation of this group of symptoms. This kind of questioning stance is characteristic of counselling psychology as a discipline, which attempts to straddle both the scientific and therapeutic worlds of psychology. This latter, more subjective and interpretative world is currently absent from PTSD research and there is a consequent lack of understanding as to the perspective of those who have a PTSD diagnosis and who have undergone treatment for it.

This research aims to fill this gap in the literature by asking veterans diagnosed with combat-related PTSD to describe and explore their experience of therapy. Six male participants were recruited on a voluntary basis from Combat Stress, the UK’s leading charity specialising in the care of veterans’ mental health. All participants served on a full time basis for the Armed Forces in a combat role and have since been diagnosed with combat-related PTSD by a Combat Stress psychiatrist. The data was collected using semi-structured interviews lasting around one hour. Analysis of the data was conducted using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), an inductive method which aims to explore and understand how a phenomenon is experienced from the perspective of those involved.

Two master themes emerged, ‘being misunderstood’ and ‘developing understanding’, each with three subthemes. These themes explore these participants’ accounts of the internal confusion caused by PTSD symptoms and the external struggle to be understood by others and receive necessary help. These themes also engage with how the participants report a growing commitment to therapy, their developing relationships with themselves and their therapists, and the value of normative experiences in a safe environment.

Together these themes form an interpretative answer to the research question: how do veterans diagnosed with combat-related PTSD experience therapy? The themes are explored in depth and links are drawn between them and the wider literature. The implications of this for counselling psychology practice are discussed, and suggestions for further research are made.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorLyndsey Moon (Supervisor) & Janek Dubowski (Supervisor)

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