A Review of “Helping Your Family Through PTSD” by Greg Gifford

Biblical counselors believe that the Bible is equipped to speak to the most complex issues of life. Yet, there is something of a paucity of resources and research, from a Biblical Counseling perspective, on the trauma related issues. You can find a few select articles, chapters, or books, but this area of crisis is in much need of further development and discussion. Into this void Greg Gifford has stepped with a brand new work on PTSD. Helping Your Family Through PTSD provides readers a concise introduction to the nature of trauma and the basics of trauma counseling.

Gifford is a fitting author to address this subject. He comes to the issue as a Biblical counselor, a professor of counselor (Master’s University), and a former US Army Chaplain. Having witnessed many of his friends and fellow military men, leave their service with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder inspired him to identify more helpful answers. It’s certainly a welcome contribution, for PTSD is one of the most serious issues in mental health today. The number of diagnoses continues to rise and the available answers to both secular and Christian counselors are few. In fact, most mental health professionals remain stumped on the issue. In part, the issues have been muddied by debates over the nature of trauma, the nature of disorder, and the distinction between PTS and PTSD. Gifford demonstrates his awareness to these issues and his acumen as he seeks to speak into this chaotic situation.

Gifford states that the goal of this short book is to “contextualize” suffering. He wants to place trauma within the Biblical worldview and help readers understand both the nature of suffering and the God-given resources that can help us address it. Gifford is less comfortable using the “disorder” label, noting that trauma is part of life and PTS is an “interpretive phenomenon.” As he explains:

What I suggest is that PTSD is an interpretive disorder, meaning that the way one perceives the threat determines their response to the threat. To say it another way, the interpretation of the circumstances determines the response to the circumstances. (21)

There are a number of factors that contribute to our interpretation. Gifford mentions genetics, familial, frequency of exposure, and even religion, to name a few. Ultimately, however, he sees the focus as the sufferer’s interpretive lens.

Gifford provides some really helpful tools in this work. He demonstrates awareness of the nuances of PTS and gives readers insights into the complexities of its symptoms. He also walks readers through a history of the diagnosis, giving a brief summary of its development as a disorder. He demonstrates the Scripture’s ability to speak to these complexities by highlighting the dominant themes within PTSD, all of which the Bible pointedly speaks to (anxiety, control, and fear). He points to the Bible’s acknowledgement of trauma in the lives of key individuals (like David in the Old Testament), and the Bible’s usefulness for related emotional struggles like regret and shame. He guides readers through key issues in counseling: confrontation of our feelings, giving of hope, wrestling thought life, and encouragement to serve. He gives suggestions on practical steps for family ministry as well, offering helpful guidance to family members.

The book is incredibly insightful. The author demonstrates his knowledge of the complexity of the issue, the dominant theories and research on PTSD, and his ability to apply the Scriptures in useful ways. I wish he had spoken more to helping people learn to integrate the trauma (accepting and process what happened to them). This can be a very difficult part for people and giving counselors some assistance in navigating this aspect of the dynamic is important. Gifford more or less assumes that individuals have accepted the trauma, but that is not always (often?) the case. Overall the book is great as an introduction to the nature of trauma and the basic concepts for helping, but further development can go a long way to assisting counselors in the early stages of trauma counseling.

Helping Your Family Through PTSD is a gift to the church and to Biblical Counseling in particular. It presents, in a concise and readable format, the basic issues involved in both understanding trauma and helping individuals/families navigate it. There is certainly room for more development on this issue, but Gifford’s book is a much welcomed contribution.

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