My invisible PTSD: Exploring the experiences of recovery in treatment seeking veterans


This study aimed to explore the experiences of 9 male veterans, and how they defined their experience of recovery following a six-week intensive treatment programme at combat stress. Data was collected in the form of interviews in which four key themes emerged. Discovering PTSD, engaging with PTSD, a road to recovery and maintaining and rebuilding. The study highlighted the importance of a multidisciplinary team approach as well as the experience of being treated in a cohort.


Background Research suggests that ex-military personnel are at high risk of developing mental health disorders such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and have been found to underuse mental health services. Research has used quantitative methods focused on barriers to accessing services, with less emphasis on factors that enable veterans to seek support. Objective The aim of this qualitative research study was to explore the experiences of veterans who seek treatment and how they define their experience of ‘recovery’. Methods Nine male veterans who had completed a six-week Intensive Treatment Programme at Combat Stress participated in the study. Qualitative data was collected using semi-structured interviews and was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Results Four key themes emerged: (1) discovering PTSD: ‘breaking the silence’, ‘experiences of diagnosis’ and ‘normalisation and containment’, (2) engaging with PTSD: ‘preconceptions and the challenges of military identity’ and ‘accepting PTSD’, (3) a road to recovery: ‘a shared experience of PTSD’, ‘finding me again’ and ‘adjusting to civvy street’ and (4) maintaining and rebuilding: ‘owning your PTSD’, ‘tackling PTSD in everyday life’ and ‘managing social relationships’. Conclusions This study highlights the importance of treatment, an Multi-Disciplinary Team approach and of psychological input for veterans with PTSD. In addition, the experience of being treated within a cohort, provides a familiar framework of treatment to veterans and which had a therapeutic effect in their recovery journey.

Full Reference

Pearson, E.J., Madigan, A., Spencer-Harper, L., Hatton, P. and Murphy, D., 2019. My invisible PTSD: Exploring the experiences of recovery in treatment seeking veterans. Journal of Veterans Studies, 5(1), pp.1–15. DOI: