Army to Train Soldiers to Cope with Emotions

Army to Train Soldiers in Emotional Resiliency is the headline of an NPR Talk of the Nation story airing September 11th.

The U.S. Army plans to add mental fitness training for soldiers to battle growing rates of depression and PTSD. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center and Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum evaluate how troops are mentally prepared for combat.

The New York Times ran a recent front page story titled Army to Train Soldiers to Cope with Emotions. Excerpts are below; emphasis mine; my thoughts, on the emotionally resilient army, will follow in a separate post.
Meanwhile, note that you are invited to a free teleconference call on emotional resiliency. The call is sponsored by 6 Seconds on Tuesday September 15 from 12:00 – 1:00 PM EST. Please join my colleague Tom Wojick, of The Renewal Group, and myself for an interactive presentation and discussion on this critical topic.
Dial into the free conference call: (712) 432-0600
Participant Access Code: 1013692#

By Benedict Carey
Published: August 17, 2009
PHILADELPHIA — The Army plans to require that all 1.1 million of its soldiers take intensive training in emotional resiliency, military officials say.
The training, the first of its kind in the military, is meant to improve performance in combat and head off the mental health problems, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide, that plague about one-fifth of troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq…
Usually taught in weekly 90-minute classes, the methods seek to defuse or expose common habits of thinking and flawed beliefs that can lead to anger and frustration — for example, the tendency to assume the worst. (“My wife didn’t answer the phone; she must be with someone else.”)…
program was an effort to transform a military culture that has generally considered talk of emotions to be so much hand-holding, a sign of weakness.
“I’m still not sure that our culture is ready to accept this,” General Casey said. “That’s what I worry about most.”…
…others disagreed, saying the program was desperately needed. And in the interview, General Casey said the mental effects of repeated deployments — rising suicide rates in the Army, mild traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress — had convinced commanders “that we need a program that gives soldiers and their families better ways to cope.”
The general agreed to the interview after The New York Times learned of the program from Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, who has been consulting with the Pentagon….
“It’s important to be clear that there’s no evidence that any program makes soldiers more resilient,” said George A. Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia University. But he and others said the program could settle one of the most important questions in psychology: whether mental toughness can be taught in the classroom.
“These are skills that apply broadly, they’re things people use throughout life, and what we’ve done is adapt them for soldiers,” said Karen Reivich, a psychologist at Penn, who is helping the Army carry out the program….
The training is based in part on the ideas of Dr. Aaron Beck and the late Albert Ellis, who found that mentally disputing unexamined thoughts and assumptions often defuses them. It also draws on recent research suggesting that people can manage stress by thinking in terms of their psychological strengths.
“Psychology has given us this whole language of pathology, so that a soldier in tears after seeing someone killed thinks, ‘Something’s wrong with me; I have post-traumatic stress,’ ” or P.T.S.D., Dr. Seligman said. “The idea here is to give people a new vocabulary, to speak in terms of resilience. Most people who experience trauma don’t end up with P.T.S.D.; many experience post-traumatic growth.”
Many of the sergeants were at first leery of the techniques. “But I think maybe it becomes like muscle memory — with practice you start to use them automatically,” said Sgt. First Class Darlene Sanders of Fort Jackson, S.C….
The Army will track average scores in units to see whether the training has any impact on mental symptoms and performance, said Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, who is overseeing the carrying out  of the new resilience program….
Perhaps the biggest question — can an organization that has long suppressed talk of emotions now open up? — is unlikely to have an answer until next year at the earliest. But the Army’s leaders are determined to ask.
“For years, the military has been saying, ‘Oh, my God, a suicide, what do we do now?’ ” said Col. Darryl Williams, the program’s deputy director. “It was reactive. It’s time to change that.”

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