seeking professional support when your spouse has a mental illness

Seeking Professional Support for the Supporter

I saw my psychologist today.

Isn’t it funny that my husband is the one with clinically diagnosed PTSD and yet I’m the one getting therapy?

No. It isn’t funny. I’ve cried enough private tears over the past five years to know that there is absolutely nothing funny with any of this.

I’ve only seen this psychologist twice. My previous counsellor, who sadly is on extended leave due to family bereavement, was good for chatting with and venting my frustrations to. But my new counsellor is a psychologist – a big step up. She’s specially trained to work with PTSD sufferers and their families. She actually understands a lot of the things I tell her about our life.

She actually gets it.

My first session was a shock, to be honest. After an hour of hard-hitting questions, I came away feeling wiped out like I’d just done an equivalent of an IME*. It takes a lot for me to cry, but she had me on the verge more than a few times during that session. And the questions she laid out for me, and all my automated responses, stayed with me for the rest of the week. However my truths were starting to become a little clearer. Four weeks later, I was apprehensive about going back…

But back I went. And I’m glad I did. I have come away feeling just that tinier bit lighter, with some new insights and some new strategies to think about.

However a few words and phrases my psychologist mentioned in passing are pressing on me, and I’m worried they’ll turn cancerous being harboured in my overanxious mind. From our conversations, she’s gleaned that my husband has “complex PTSD”. His PTSD is to be considered “severe”. In terms of his harmful relationship with alcohol, he is still very much in the “pre-contemplation” stage when considering stages of change. And in terms of active treatment of his PTSD, we discussed the term “resistant”.

Shit. Here I was naively assuming, despite his latest PTSD relapse two months ago, he was somewhat “okay” – that is, okay in the scheme of what okay actually means under the shadow of PTSD. Words like “complex” and “severe” don’t sit so well with me. Not at all. “Resistant” means my life as I know it won’t be changing any time soon.

And finally, “pre-contemplation” may sound less threatening, but in the reality of my world, that translates as having to accept my husband drinking regularly and often, in what’s known as “self-medicating”. Wonderful.

Who understands this world? When my husband drinks, I lose my husband.

I lose my husband, and I gain a monster.


* I.M.E. = Independent Medical Examination. Something my husband has had to endure multiple times while jumping through the hoops of work cover and a temporary disability pension. Put simply, an IME is the easiest way to dredge up every horror he has ever lived through, in little more than an hour, without any psychological support or follow-up, guaranteeing a severe and immediate setback in his PTSD and exaggerated misery for our family. The term “counter-productive” barely tickles the tip of the iceberg when considering the role of IMEs in cases of PTSD.



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  1. Thanks for sharing. My husband also suffers from PTSD and self medicates with alcohol. He has been to rehab and detox several times with no luck as the PTSD never seems to get treated. He is spiraling,
    Recently suspended from work do to sick time abuse. We have been married 27 years, he has always been a smart loving successful man but his years as a police officer, and childhood trauma has left him broken. There is not a lot of help out there and this has all taken its toll on our marriage. We have 3 awesome kids and I just want him to get better. I attend Al-anon myself. He sees a physcologist every 5 weeks and a addiction counselor every 2 weeks, he hates his job ( now cbp officer) and he is ashamed of what he has become. We are jiust trying to make it . I will keep searching for help. Thanks again for sharing.

    • I’m so sorry your journey has been so rocky. It can be hard to treat both the addiction cycle and the PTSD when one feeds off the other. I wonder if your husband would benefit from more intensive or at least more regular PTSD therapy, if available? It’s not your job to save him, but it is your job to look after yourself. Find some professional support, if you haven’t already, and reach out to your trusted friends and family. Take care.

  2. Last year i finally went to a therapist. We talked and i found out she worked with guys who had ptsd and as a result she “got” where i was coming from. However and the end of my sessions although i felt better, it was she who said i feel ive learnt from you more from you than you have gained from me!
    Great blog xx

    • I think that’s probably the case with many therapists, learning just as much from their patients and we do from them! I’m glad you took the leap to seek counselling, it really is so important for caregivers to look after themselves. Take care.

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