Resilience study can help DOD officials strengthen programs

by Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON ― The military has a plethora of programs aimed at building resilience in service members and their families, but needs a better system in place to measure their success, a study has revealed.

Commissioned by officials from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, the Rand Corp. study examined 23 military and civilian programs that address psychological resilience and offered  recommendations on how the military can improve their quality and effectiveness.
Resilience is a keystone to a service member’s overall fitness, said U.S. Public Health Service Cmdr. George Durgin, the centers’ resilience division chief in the resilience and prevention directorate.

“If you have a service member who can adapt and overcome to adverse events and then turn back to a steady plane, a green zone, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.

The question, he added, is, “How do we get into a heightened event and then get back to that green zone?”

To start, experts reviewed 270 scientific publications on psychological resilience. From the literature, the team identified 20 factors, including positive thinking and coping, realism and behavioral control, that were scientifically proven to be the most effective at building resilience.

The team then gathered information on 23 service-specific resilience programs that are targeted to military members and their families and addressed at least one phase of deployment. Their purpose was to see if the factors they had identified as effective were integrated into these programs and, if so, to what extent.

Experts also looked to see how these programs assessed their success.
According to the study’s findings, published in the report “Promoting Psychological Resilience in the U.S. Military,” the programs incorporated several of the resilience factors, but need a more standard evaluation system to measure success.
The programs employ a wide range of measures to gauge their effectiveness, the report noted, and just five of the 23 programs have conducted formal assessments.

“These programs are popular with leaders and troops, and intuitively we think they are having a positive effect,” Durgin said. “But the bottom line is there hasn’t been a formal approach to measuring success.”

The findings also showed programs have a wide range of definitions for resilience.
The study listed a series of recommendations aimed at improving the quality and delivery of resilience programs.

First, Defense Department leaders and policy makers should create a department-wide definition of resilience, the report suggested. This will help to focus programs, it explained, and provide guidance for measuring outcomes.

DOD specialists also need to strengthen existing programs, the report said, through an evaluation of existing programs’ strengths and weaknesses. Programs that show the most potential can be combined, the report suggested, citing the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program as a possible candidate.
Officials also should standardize resilience measures to allow for program comparison.

To help wade through the vast number of programs, the report said, DOD officials should develop a resource guide that compares and contrasts programs for service members and their families.

Researchers at the Defense Centers of Excellence are developing a database of service-specific programs, Durgin noted. This will help people find programs quickly and also help to direct future programs. If an effective program already is in place, he said, “why reinvent the wheel?”

The report also cited a need to ensure that scientifically proven resilience factors ― such as positive thinking, coping and behavioral control ― are incorporated into programs.

Finally, DOD officials should engage senior military leaders and ensure rigorous program evaluation is in place.

Studies such as this one, along with research by the Defense Centers of Excellence, can help the military focus and strengthen its resilience programs, Durgin noted.

The overall goal, he added, is to ensure service members and their families remain resilient. It’s normal to move out of a steady state when confronted with combat and other wartime challenges, Durgin said, “but the key part for us is that they can always get back. And if they can’t, that’s when we have to step in to help them.”