The Season 8 finale of Real Housewives of Orange County highlighted multiple fights during Vicki Gunvalson’s Winter Wonderland party. Perhaps most shocking to viewers was the altercation that took place between Vicki’s son-in-law, Ryan Culberson, and Judy Stirling, Lydia McLaughlin’s mother.
Many fans of the show thought Ryan was out of line, but others thought something else was at play, suggesting the frequently deployed marine could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ryan is currently in Afghanistan and completed a previous tour there in 2011. During 2005 and 2008, he served in Iraq.
Wetpaint Entertainment spoke with clinical and forensic psychologist and chairman of The Institute for Traumatic Stress, Inc Mark Lerner about Ryan’s outburst at Vicki’s party. Though Dr. Lerner hasn’t treated Ryan, he did watch a clip from the show. He stressed that viewers shouldn’t “rush to label people with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Dr. Lerner explained, “Although certainly a significant number of our troops, as well as people who have been through traumatic events, do ultimately receive a diagnosis of PTSD, more often than not, people are experiencing what we call ‘traumatic stress reactions,’ which is simply normal responses to abnormal events... I think it’s important that we don’t rush to label him as somebody that’s diagnosed with PTSD as much as somebody that may be having a very real traumatic stress reaction.”
That’s an important distinction, says Dr. Lerner. “The fundamental difference between traumatic stress and PTSD is really what comes down to an ability to function effectively in the world,” he says. “People with PTSD have significant impairment in functioning, whereas people who have traumatic stress reactions just exhibit the same symptoms but can still function. I think in watching that clip, we’re seeing a gentleman who I assume has returned from war, has served, and is now demonstrating what we call a normal reaction to the abnormal events that he’s experienced. He has what we would call a short fuse or low tolerance for frustration. And I think that’s really what we saw in that particular clip and is actually a very, very common reaction not only among people who have been at war [but] among people who have experience all kinds of challenging events, traumatic events.”
Dr. Lerner hopes learning the difference between PTSD and traumatic stress reactions may help viewers see the situation in a different light. He says, “I think the most important thing is to try to normalize those kinds of reactions rather than over-pathologize. In other words, rather than rushing to say this guy has some kind of disorder and he’s broken and psychologically disturbed and has a disorder, this is what we see among people who come back. They’re hypervigilant; they’re watchful; they’re excessively cautious. They get easily frustrated. They have this low-frustration tolerance or short fuse.”
You can find out more about Dr. Lerner at his website.