Family of origin variables as predictors of post-traumatic stress disorder



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Texas Tech University


The postwar maladjustment symptoms manifested by the Vietnam veterans include insomnia, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, startle reactions, intrusive combat memories, and excessive guilt in acute, chronic or cyclical patterns. The American Psychiatric Association has established a diagnostic category, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to describe the major presenting problem for combat-stressed Vietnam veterans.

The research question under investigation was why some Vietnam combat veterans experienced PTSD and others did not. Emphasis was on the predispositiona1 aspect, specifically the veteran's family of origin. Under consideration was whether the veteran's childhood familial experiences influenced his subsequent experience of combat-related stress. If so, what factors predisposed or placed him at risk for PTSD.

Data supported a significant relationship between PTSD and family of origin stability. Veterans experiencing PTSD came from generally unstable families Family of origin autonomy and intimacy were not significant. Empirical data failed to link these variables to PTSD symptoms. The period of the war in which the veteran saw combat did not prove to be a discriminating factor in PTSD. Similarly, branch of service (Army or Marines) also was a non-discriminating factor. Rank, however, was a discriminator with two-thirds of the PTSD veterans in this study being non-rated military.

Empirical findings supported the premise that a combat veteran's family of origin experiences, specifically family stability and socioeconomic conditions, correlated with his predisposition to experience PTSD symptoms. Data failed to support the residual stress theory. Theoretical and clinical implications of the study are discussed.