Every nation must have a military. They make us feel safe and sound. However, the life of a soldier includes having to encounter various incidents that impact their long-term mental health.
Soldiers in modern warfare tend to suffer from “sleep deprivation, cultural dissonance, physical fatigue, prolonged separation from family, and the ever-present threat of serious bodily injury or death (Cornum et al., 2011).”
Since 2001, more than 1.64 million American soldiers have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan war (Cornum et al., 2011). They have experienced traumatic incidents, PTSD, and other mental disorders. Some of them could cope with it. However, some could not.
‘The suicide rate among our soldiers is at an all-time high. The number of soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress is also high. And the stress of long separations due to combat is felt by our family members too” (Casey, 2011).
70% of American soldiers have children. Moreover, there are about 1.85 million children having their parents serving in the military (Park, 2011). Therefore, the stress and mental illness not only impact soldiers, but also their family and the people supporting them.
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Positive psychology in the U.S. Army
In 2008, Martin Seligman was invited to have lunch at the Pentagon with the commander George Casey and the General Casey. He first thought that they would talk to him about PTSD. Instead, they mentioned that
“Civilian medicine is perversely incentivized. If we want health, we should concentrate on building resilience-psychologically and physically-particularly among young people. We want a fighting force that can bounce back and cope with the persistent warfare that the next decade promises” (Seligman, 2012).
Prior to that, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness had started 2 months ago. Hence, Martin Seligman gathered a big group of researchers to conduct the test of psychological fitness, resilience training, and a self-improvement course.
Much research has been showing that positive psychology is beneficial to the army in many ways. For example,
“the character strengths of courage, teamwork, optimism, honesty, persistence, leadership, and self-regulation seem to be important mediators of success in situations characterized by significant cognitive, emotional, and physical challenges”.
“three positive psychology-based exercises significantly improved affect and diminished depression among a sample of 577 adults” (Cornum et al., 2011).
Resilience, Psychological Fitness, and Post Traumatic Growth
Instead of focusing on treatment, positive psychology practitioners narrow the scope by aiming to promote psychological fitness and resilience to American soldiers. Even American soldiers have been assessed on general ability in WW I and attitude and specific ability in WW II (Seligman, 2012).
There is no systematic measurement of psychological fitness like good social relationships or psychological vigor in the Army (Peterson, Park & Castro, 2011).
In fact, resilience, the ability to persist in the face of challenges and to bounce back from adversity, has been studied since 1970s.
Research shows that various factors that contribute to resilience are “optimism, effective problem solving, faith, sense of meaning, self efficacy, flexibility, impulse control, empathy, close relationships, and spirituality, among others (Reivich, Seligman & McBride, 2011).”
Another study found that psychological hardiness, a psychological style associated with resilience, good health, and performance under a range of stressful conditions, makes a small but a significant contribution to successful completion of a rigorous Army Special Forces candidate school (Bartone, 2008).
In addition, based on the study of relationship between combat deployment and Post Traumatic Growth and negative behavioral health, it showed that “those reporting the highest number of combat experiences also reported significantly higher overall PTG”. Soldiers also reporting recent suicidal ideation had significantly lower overall PTG (Gallaway et al., 2011).
Comprehensive Soldier Fitness
Basically the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program is a preventive program that seeks to enhance resilience among members of the Army community, which includes soldiers, family members, and the Department of the Army civilians (Casey, 2011).
It was launched due to the recognition of the following problems in U.S. soldiers:
- To combat stress that American soldiers who have been rotated between home and combat for 9 years face, as it impacts their relationship and performance
- To ensure that American soldiers are ready both psychologically and physically to serve the persistent conflicts.
The program aims at prevention rather than treatment. 5 dimensions of family, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual health are used for a holistic approach to promote psychological resilience.
In general, there are 4 components of the program. The first is the online self-assessment, Global Assessment Tool (GAT), to identify resiliency strengths which more than 900,000 soldiers have used. The second is the online self-help modules customized to the results. Thirdly, more than 2,500 soldiers have been trained for the training of master resilience trainers. This last one is conducted in every Army leader development school to teach the mandatory resilience training (Casey, 2011).
Global Assessment Tool (GAT)
“As emotional fitness goes up, PTSD symptoms decline (Seligman, 2012).”
The GAT is “a self-report questionnaire designed to measure the psychosocial well-being of soldiers of all ranks and experience in four domains identified as important in the CSF program: emotional fitness, social fitness, family fitness, and spiritual fitness (Peterson, Park & Castro, 2011).”
It is expected to be useful in all fields. All soldiers must take it and the results are confidential. After receiving the result, each soldier will be directed to particular online courses that are suitable for them.
The 5 online fitness courses are emotional fitness by Barbara Frederickson, social fitness by John Cacioppo, family fitness by Julie and John Gotman, spiritual fitness by Pat Sweeney and Ken Pargament, and post traumatic growth by Rick Tedeschi and Rich McNally (Seligman, 2012).
Master Resilience Training (MRT)
The last and most challenging task, according to Seligman (2012), is resilience training that teaches one how to build mental toughness, fight with catastrophic thoughts in real time, hunt the good stuff, indentify character strengths of leaders, and build a strong relationship.
MRT is developed by The Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP) and APEX, which helped college students cope with anxiety and depression. Later on it brought the elements of positive psychology such as indentifying strengths, gratitude, and relationship constructing as well.
According to the foundational pillars of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, the U.S. Army Master Resilience Trainer or (MRT) course was established to train sergeants to teach resiliency to their soldiers via face to face.
The first 8 days of the course is the preparation component based on the Penn Resilience Program (PRP). Developed by the researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the second component is the sustainable development that emphasizes deployment cycle training. The enhancement component, teaching skills to maximize individual performance, was advanced by the sports psychologist at the United States Military Academy at West Point (Reivich, Seligman & McBride, 2011).
“CSF as it has been conceived and executed would not have been possible 20 years ago. The advent of positive psychology, with its emphasis on positive states, traits, institutions, and social relationships, provides a novel scientifically based approach well suited to the Army’s concerns” (Cornum et al., 2011).
The recent evaluation of Master Resilience Training (Harms et al., 2013), part of the core of CSF, concluded that resilience training helped reduce the mental health problems in soldiers such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Reults were more significant for soldiers exposed to the program weho did not have a diagnosis in substance abuse or other disorders.
All in all, both PRP and MRT highlights the use of optimistic explanatory styles, adaptive problem-solving, building self-regulation and self-efficacy, promoting emotional awareness, and developing realistic beliefs. It also built strong interpersonal relationships to enhance the overall well-being of U.S. army.
Bartone, P. T., Roland, R. R., Picano, J. J., & Williams, T. J. (2008). Psychological hardiness predicts success in US Army Special Forces candidates. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16(1), 78-81.Casey Jr, G. W. (2011). Comprehensive soldier fitness: a vision for psychological resilience in the US Army. American Psychologist, 66(1), 1.
Cornum, R., Matthews, M. D., & Seligman, M. E. (2011). Comprehensive soldier fitness: building resilience in a challenging institutional context.American Psychologist, 66(1), 4.
Gallaway, M. S., Millikan, A. M., & Bell, M. R. (2011). The association between deployment‐related posttraumatic growth among us army soldiers and negative behavioral health conditions. Journal of clinical psychology, 67(12), 1151-1160.
Park, N. (2011). Military children and families: strengths and challenges during peace and war. American Psychologist, 66(1), 65.
Peterson, C., Park, N., & Castro, C. A. (2011). Assessment for the US Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program: the Global Assessment Tool.American Psychologist, 66(1), 10.
Reivich, K. J., Seligman, M. E., & McBride, S. (2011). Master resilience training in the US Army. American Psychologist, 66(1), 25.
Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press