The New York Times has an extended article that uncritically dicusses a $125 million US Military programme currently designed to increase resilience against mental illness.
If you’re interested in the effects and treatment of psychological trauma, it’s always worth keeping tabs on what the military are doing. The concept of trauma has largely been driven by the military and they are usually pioneers in developing treatments and interventions.
Rather than aim to treat mental health problems, it aims to prevent them by improving the psychological strength of individual soldiers. Owing to the fact that the US Military has surprisingly high levels of PTSD, it is clearly designed with this in mind.
It involves completing a 110 item questionnaire called the ‘Global Assessment Tool’ that gives scores based on the four domains of programme: emotional fitness, social fitness, family fitness and spiritual fitness (it would be interesting to see how atheists score on this last part).
The idea is that the programme can then be tailored to the GAT profile of each soldier to strengthen vulnerabilities and build on existing strengths.
If you were going to base your programme on a psychometric assessment, most importantly, you would want to know that your assessment predicted problems or coping in particular soldiers.
For example, if a particular soldier had a low score on, let’s say, the emotional fitness part of the scale, it would be important to know that tells us about what sort of problems the soldier is likely to have in real life and during his or her service.
You would also want to know that the assessment told us about the likelihood of the solider getting mental illness. It makes sense, right? If you’ve designed a programme intended to prevent mental illness based on an assessment, the assessment should tell us which soldiers are at higher risk for psychiatric difficulties so we can help with skills and abilities that mitigate the risk.
In psychological jargon, this is known as predictive validity and it can be tested statistically.
It is not known whether the Global Assessment Tool does actually predicts anything useful about US soldiers’ problems because this was never tested.
We know this because the GAT and the other aspects of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Programme were the subject of the special issue of American Psychologist that had numerous articles on the development and evidence for the programme by the programme’s creators, including an article on the GAT.
As a whole, it seems the Army implemented the programme wholesale and has since been evaluating it in retrospect, which seems a little bit of an odd way of going about it.
By the way, the New York Times article is really focused on ‘posttraumatic growth’ – the psychological benefits that surviving trauma can bring. In places it seems to imply a sort of split view of the phenomenon where you either are traumatised or experience growth – when in reality, it’s possible to be both disabled in some aspects of life while growing in others.
One of the best things I read on this recently was Stephen Joseph’s book What Doesn’t Kill Us: The Psychology of Post-Traumatic Growth (note: I’m blurbed on the back but I don’t make any money from it) that, as a level-headed look at the concept, comes highly recommended.
Link to NYT article on post-traumatic growth.