Sherri Fisher, MAPP ’06, M.Ed., CPBS, is an education management consultant, workshop facilitator, author, and coach specializing in learning and productivity solutions for students of all ages, families, and schools. She is the co-founder and Chief Education Officer of Positive Edge Tutoring; a founder of Flourishing Schools; and has her own practice, Student Flourishing. She is also co-author of Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full Bio. Sherri’s articles are here.
The Army News Service formally announced last week that the U. S. Army has a new approach it hopes can prevent the psychological effects of warfare from turning into post traumatic stress disorder. The first official “master resilience training” program is one part of the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness approach aimed at enhancing physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual soldier fitness. The resilience program is being developed and customized for the Army by the University of Pennsylvania’s resilience program. Details can be seen here. Why train military personnel to become more psychologically fit? PTSD is crippling for many soldiers back from deployment. Moreover, according to the military, posttraumatic stress disorder affects about one out of every five returning personnel deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Symptoms include recurrent intrusive memories, emotional numbing, and a hyperfocus on avoiding the disorder’s symptoms, all likely to have costs to the veteran’s unit and family. Fortunately, more people who go into combat have post-traumatic growth. They’re confronted by something very difficult, and they emerge stronger as a result.
Martin Seligman says, “We can teach people to recognize the most catastrophic, unrealistic things they say to themselves when adversity strikes and to argue against the most catastrophic thoughts; realistically, to put them into perspective. This is a well-defined technique that’s been validated with tens-of-thousands of people in cognitive therapy procedures.” The US Department of Defense, in conjunction with the Veterans Administration, agrees. They list cognitive therapies with their top evidence-based interventions for PTSD.
New research (in-press) by Todd Kashdan and colleagues at George Mason University, however, showed that soldiers diagnosed with PTSD did not respond equally well to treatment, even to cognitive therapies that are considered most effective. Kashdan’s study analyzed the content of veterans’ most important strivings–the things they wanted to accomplish in their life. Strivings, Kashdan says, are “a compass directing people toward cherished interests and values across time,” the generally important plans or aspirations of a person, the important underpinnings of our personality, hopes, and dreams. An example of an approach striving would be, “I want to be a good father,” whereas an avoidance striving might be “I don’t want to lose my spouse.”
Unlike goals, a striving does not need to have an endpoint when it will be completed. Compared to those who have approach strivings, veterans diagnosed with PTSD who strived to avoid or who focused on improving emotional self-regulation did not become happier, despite allocating significant emotional, time, and financial resources toward achieving those things for which they strived and using evidence-based cognitive interventions to support their recovery. In this study, they also experienced less purpose, meaning and joy.
At the treatment level, there is now brain imaging that can identify regions of the brain affected by PTSD. Attention and memory abilities normally moderate the exaggerated fear response which accompanies reliving a trauma. These areas are underactive in the brains of PTSD sufferers. This pattern is also seen in patients without PTSD but with anxiety, irritability, depression or insomnia. More research needs to be done to see—literally—which treatments can alleviate PTSD symptoms.
Hopefully, teaching soldiers the skills of resilience before they are exposed to the traumas of warfare will prevent many incidences of PTSD. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. asserts, “I firmly believe that this effort to build resilience and enhance performance is fundamentally necessary if we are going to sustain this force over the coming years.”
Kashdan, T.B., Breen, W.E., & Julian, T. (in press). Everyday strivings in combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: Problems arise when avoidance and emotion regulation dominate. Behavior Therapy
Neergaard, L. (2009). Scans show PTSD effects: May prompt earlier diagnosis. Associated Press, November 10, 2009.
Iraq (helicopters) courtesy of The U. S. Army
devil dogs (Marines getting ready for night in Iraq) courtesy of rcvernor
BCT me and liller courtesy of Katrina*Rey
Routine Head Scan on Me courtesy of Andrew Ciscel