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Veteran–child communication about parental PTSD: A mixed methods pilot study

APA Citation:

Sherman, M. D., Larsen, J., Straits-Troster, K., Erbes, C., & Tassey, J. (2015). Veteran-child communication about parental PTSD: A mixed methods pilot study. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(4), 595-603. doi:10.1037/fam0000124

Abstract Created by REACH:

Many adults with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are parents who must navigate relationships with their children in the face of this diagnosis. This study investigated communication with children regarding parent's PTSD as well as parental experiences receiving treatment for PTSD in a Veteran sample. Findings indicated that Veterans desired to share information about their PTSD with their children, but that they experienced several barriers to doing so.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches

Subject Affiliation:



Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Aged (65 yrs & older)
Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)
Preschool age (2 -5 yrs)
School age (6 - 12 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)


Empirical Study
Focus Group
Qualitative Study
Quantitative Study


Sherman, Michelle D., Larsen, Jessica, Straits-Troster, Kristy, Erbes, Christopher, Tassey, John


The majority of adults with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are parents. Parents with PTSD report lower levels of parenting satisfaction, poorer parent–child relationships, and elevated incidence of child distress and behavioral problems in comparison with parents without PTSD. Although literature exists regarding parent–child communication about serious mental illness and physical health problems, research has yet to examine this communication regarding parental PTSD. This 3-site, mixed methods study involved 19 veteran parents who had a diagnosis of PTSD; participants were recruited from VA medical centers. Veterans participated in focus groups or individual interviews and completed questionnaires, responding to questions about motivations and barriers for disclosure of their PTSD to their children, the content of such disclosure, experiences at the VA as a parent, and desired VA family resources. Although many veterans described a desire to talk with their children about PTSD, they experience many barriers to doing so, including both personal reservations and feelings (e.g., avoidance of discussing PTSD, shame) and concerns about the consequences of disclosure on their children (e.g., child distress, loss of child’s respect for veteran). Regarding veterans’ experience at the VA, 21% reported that none of their providers had assessed if they have children, and 21% experienced the VA system as not welcoming to them as parents, citing both logistical issues (e.g., lack of childcare) and provider neglect of parenting concerns. Veterans indicated they would like the VA to offer parenting classes, workshops for families, child care, and family therapy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

American Psychological Association

Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, MDS
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, JL
Department of Veterans Affairs, Phoenix VAMC, KST
Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis VAMC, CE
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, JT


mental disorders, military veterans, parent child communication, parental characteristics, parenting, posttraumatic stress disorder

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


VA South Central (VISN 16), Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center

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