Fort Hood Ground Zero for Innovative Mental Health Training

ABC's Whitney Lloyd reports from New York:

Fort Hood – where 13 soldiers were killed and 30 more shot by a fellow soldier yesterday – is at the forefront of an Army experiment to combat the emotional assault of war on soldiers.

Major Nidal Malki Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who had treated soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, unleashed his own frustration and fear of an upcoming deployment to Iraq in a hail of bullets at Fort Hood – one of only two Army bases participating in a newly launched program to train soldiers in “emotional resiliency.”

Opened just last month, the Fort Hood Resiliency Campus is the Army’s first such facility. It stretches across a city block on the 340-square mile base, complete with such resort-like amenities as a rock climbing wall, yoga studio, juice bar and classrooms where soldiers are taught to be mentally tough.

Using psychological techniques developed at the University of Pennsylvania, soldiers are trained in weekly 90-minute classes to defuse habitual, frustrating ways of thinking that can add to soldiers’ stress.

One training exercise the program uses is that of an unanswered phone call home when deployed. Rather than assume that an unanswered call means their wife is cheating on them, soldiers are taught to recalibrate their thoughts and realize that their wife is most likely busy with their children.

These techniques of mentally disputing irrational thoughts were originally developed for middle and high school students and have been successful in reducing stress and raising students’ grades.

Critics of the Army’s new program doubt the same techniques will be effective for soldiers dealing with roadside bombs, comrades’ deaths and family stress.

“It’s important to be clear that there’s no evidence that any program makes soldiers more resilient, “ George Bonanno, a Columbia University psychologist told The New York Times.

Ultimately, the Army will require all 1.1 million soldiers to undergo this mental training and will track its impact on their mental health through a 170-item questionnaire.

But for Fort Hood, the Army’s inaugural mental health experiment happening on base may prove to be too little too late.

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