The Army's Flawed Resilience-Training Study: A Call for Retraction

(NOTE: My thanks to co-author Stephen Soldz.)


Ten years of continuous war — characterized by multiple deployments, elusive guerilla adversaries, and occupied populations seemingly more tilted toward resentment than gratitude — have taken a significant toll on US troops. In addition to those who have been killed, physically maimed, or neurologically impaired by combat, many soldiers have experienced debilitating psychological disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Large numbers are on antidepressants and other psychotropic medications, while the suicide rate among troops has risen to alarming levels.

The sobering realities of the psychological effects of war pose a serious challenge for the US military tasked with simultaneously fighting multiple wars and anticipating years of “persistent conflict” ahead. The good news is that key sectors within the military have now identified the mental health of our troops as a major issue that must be addressed. Indeed, in addition to treatment for those suffering psychological impairment, the military leadership is pursuing intervention efforts aimed at preventing such adverse outcomes by increasing soldiers’ psychological resilience to combat exposure. The largest of these new initiatives is the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, launched in 2009 and based upon the “positive psychology” framework of psychologist Martin Seligman. And that brings us to the bad news: despite the over-hyped claims of CSF’s leading proponents, at this point there is little evidence to suggest that CSF works.

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The Perfect Storm: Our Wounded Soldiers and the Flood of Public Outrage

walter-reed-general-hospitalWe have now learned that the outpatient conditions faced by some of our wounded returning soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are truly shocking—rodent and roach infested rooms, mold and leaky plumbing, no heat and water, inadequate and unqualified staffing, and seemingly interminable bureaucratic delays in their treatment. But equally stunning is the fact that several high-level officials have actually lost their jobs as a result of this news—despite initial efforts to downplay and discount the reported negligence. After all, considering the Bush administration’s lengthy record of action and inaction worthy of public outrage and condemnation, we might wonder why this particular instance of wrongdoing and mismanagement has drawn such a strong, unified, and seemingly effective response from the American people. From a psychological perspective, one reason is clear: the discoveries at Walter Reed represent a near “perfect storm,” triggering all five core concerns—about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness—that often govern the way we understand the world around us.

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