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Limitations of benefit finding as a coping mechanism for combat-related PTSD symptoms

APA Citation:

Wood, M. D., Foran, H. M., & Britt, T. W. (2023). Limitations of benefit finding as a coping mechanism for combat-related PTSD symptoms. Military Psychology, 35(3), 233-244. https://doi.org/10.1080/08995605.2022.2112884

Abstract Created by REACH:

Benefit finding is a cognitive coping strategy in which a person acknowledges adverse life events and values them for the growth they derived from the events. For example, a Service member might perceive benefits from a combat deployment (e.g., they bonded with unit members and learned new skills). This study examined whether benefit finding buffered the relationship between combat exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among active-duty Soldiers who recently returned from combat deployment. Soldiers completed questionnaires 4 months and/or 9 months after deployment. At 4 months post-deployment, greater combat exposure was linked to more PTSD symptoms, but the strength of that relationship was less salient among Soldiers who engaged in more benefit finding (i.e., benefit finding buffered some of the impact of combat exposure). This protective effect was not apparent at 9 months post-deployment.


Mental health

Branch of Service:


Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member


Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Longitudinal Study
Quantitative Study


Wood, Michael D., Foran, Heather M., Britt, Thomas W.


Benefit finding has been identified as a buffer of the combat exposure-PTSD symptom link in soldiers. However, benefit finding may have a limited buffering capacity on the combat-PTSD symptom link over the course of a soldier’s post-deployment recovery period. In the present study, soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) were surveyed at two different time periods post-deployment: Time 1 was 4 months post-deployment (n = 1,510), and Time 2 was at 9 months post-deployment (n = 783). The surveys assessed benefit finding, PTSD symptoms, and combat exposure. Benefit finding was a successful buffer of the cross-sectional relationship between combat exposure and PTSD reexperiencing symptoms at Time 1, but not at Time 2. In addition, the benefit finding by combat interaction at time 1 revealed that greater benefit finding was associated with higher symptoms under high combat exposure at Time 2 after controlling for PTSD arousal symptoms at Time 1. The results of the present study indicate that benefit finding may have a buffering capacity in the immediate months following a combat deployment, but also indicates that more time than is allotted during the post-deployment adjustment period is needed to enable recovery from PTSD. Theoretical implications are discussed.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Taylor & Francis

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Department of Defense, United States Military Academy, MDW
Institute for Psychology, University of Klagenfurt, HMF
Department of Psychology, Clemson University, TWB


PTSD, benefit finding, combat exposure

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  June 2023

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