The Warrior’s Journey: Sociocontextual Meaning-Making in Military Transitions

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Meaning-making and social support have been shown to mediate between traumatic stress and the onset and course of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous research has been relatively unsuccessful in identifying specific and recurring sociocontextual variables for populations vulnerable to trauma. This qualitative study examined how social support and the social environment are associated with meaning-making among veterans. Semistructured interviews were completed with 12 U.S. combat veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The interviews collected information about the sociocontextual meaning ascribed to traumatic experiences as well as the sociocontextual development of the veterans’ postcombat identity. The theoretical narrative that emerged from the qualitative analysis yielded 2 broad constructs: “Becoming Battle Ready” and “Making the Journey Home.” These constructs illustrated the ways in which the social context either facilitated or inhibited how veterans made meaning of combat stressors and postcombat identity. There was no evidence for meaning-making processes that took place on a purely individual level. These findings support the use of interventions that incorporate the social context into traditional trauma treatments.

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