Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Helping Soldiers and Veterans Readjust

"Army Will Train Soldiers To Cope With Emotions" says the headline of yesterday's front page New York Times article (August 18, 2009). The story, entitled on the WWW as "Mental Stress Training Is Planned for U.S. Soldiers" details a new $117 Million program that the U.S. Army is instituting to eventually train all 1.1 million soldiers in emotional resiliency. This is part of the Department of Defense's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program . With the 'mental' health problems of depression, 'post-traumatic stress disorder', and suicide coming to the fore as major problems for combat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, these issues are now getting the attention they deserve. With consultation from a number of psychologists, such as Martin Seligman, George A. Bonanno, Karen Reivich and others, pilot programs will be started on two military bases with the initial focus on training sergeants who will be able to teach the techniques to enlisted men and women. The methods being taught are based on the work of Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, among others.

The article made a few related points which 'floored me' as a korzybskian general semantics scholar. First, that this training would be the first of its kind. Not the case—as readers of this blog will soon see. Then quoting from the New York Times article,
"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."
No evidence? Also not the case.

During World War Two, Douglas M. Kelley, a psychiatrist and student of Alfred Korzybski, served as Chief Consultant in Clinical Psychology and Assistant Consultant in Psychiatry to the European Theatre of Operations. Both prior to and after the D-Day invasion of Normandy by Allied Forces, Kelley worked in army hospitals in England and Belgium with psychiatric casualties from "combat exhaustion". Kelley's program of treatment involved intensive but brief classes and group counseling sessions based primarily on Korzybski's educational approach. Kelly also trained non-psychiatrist field medics and surgeons, who served during the Normandy invasion, in these methods . There is some evidence (although statistical data was lost), that the use of these methods with thousands of troops may have had something to do with the reduced number of psychiatric casualties during the D-Day invasion (as compared with previous Allied invasions in North Africa and Italy).

Korzybski, himself, and other of his students also worked with people suffering from what is now referred to as 'post-traumatic stress disorder'.

Kelley's paper on his work in the European Theatre of Operations, "The Use of General Semantics And Korzybskian Principles As An Extensional Method of Group Psychotherapy In Traumatic Neurosis" was originally published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases in 1951, Vol. 114 (3), Sept., pp. 189-220. (In his paper, Kelly presented the details of his classes in sufficient detail for others to reproduce and build upon.)

Korzybski's paper with a case study, "A Veteran's Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods," was originally published in ETC, Vol. III (4), Summer 1946 and also appeared in part in The American Journal of Psychiatry, "Clinical Notes," Vol. 103, No. 1, July 1946. Korzybski soon had it distributed as a separate reprint. It was reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, 1920-1950 published by the Institute of General Semantics in 1990. Here is a link to Korzybski's original reprint version: A Veteran's Re-Adjustment and Extensional Methods.

Both papers have been reprinted together along with a number of other seminal articles in the Institute of General Semantics' book General Semantics In Psychotherapy: Selected Writings On Methods Aiding Therapy edited by Isabel Caro and Charlotte Schuchardt Read. (My wife, Susan Presby Kodish also has an article in the book and provided major editorial help in bringing the book into print.) Also available (for less than at at the Institute of General Semantics E-Bookstore

Shouldn't expert consultants like Bonanno who are helping design the Army's new program to help our troops be a little more careful in making pronouncements about what evidence does or doesn't exist? Especially since this is not the Army's first effort in this kind of thing. In this blog piece, I've pulled some of the forgotten material out of the memory hole. And the project designer-evaluator-researchers including the Army people who are participating in this important program now have no excuse for not educating themselves about what has already been done.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Very well done, Bruce.