Date of Conferral
Early into the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, reports revealed that less than half of individuals displaying symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder sought help from the mental health community. As a means to cope with the stresses of war, many soldiers turned to animals for emotional support, and anecdotal reports identified reduction in the severity of distress among soldiers. However, no study was found that investigates this phenomenon. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of service members with combat-related posttraumatic stress symptoms and the human-animal bond. The study applied a blend of constructivism and phenomenology to address how the construction of knowledge and perception interacts with trauma exposure to develop distress--the diathesis-stress theory of posttraumatic stress disorder. The single research question inquired into the lived experiences of Operational Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom military personnel with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms who have a companion animal. Data collection consisted of 12 in-depth, participant interviews, which were analyzed using the phenomenological techniques created by Moustakas. The analysis revealed 4 themes: (a) rich descriptions of deployment events, (b) the experiences of returning from a deployment, (c) participants' perceptions on their pets' influence on posttraumatic stress symptoms, and (d) other personal comments and opinions related to participants' experiences. These findings illuminate the experiences of combat-related posttraumatic stress and the importance of animals in the therapeutic process. These detailed descriptions may help develop alternative treatment options and help policy makers assess the current management of posttraumatic stress in the military and Veteran's Administration systems.