Science and Technology News

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Psychology Course Prepares Military Providers for Deployment Concerns

By Julie Weckerlein and Robyn Mincher, DCoE Strategic Communications

During the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) course, “Topics in Deployment Psychology,” a panel of five military mental health care providers spoke about their recent deployment. The discussion raised an important question on self-care while deployed: how can a provider stay mentally fit while addressing the psychological health of troops?

For Capt. (Dr.) Tracy Mayfield, a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Air Force deployed to northeast Afghanistan, she found company with the base’s working dog.

“I had to take time out from being a psychologist to have ‘me time’ and relax,” said Mayfield, who was the forward operating base psychologist for about a thousand troops. “Every Sunday, I’d take the dog for a walk. I’m a pet lover, and it really helped.”

CDP is part of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and a component center of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). The course, held at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence from June 7 to June 16, 2011, offered an overview of deployment issues facing service members, their families and providers, geared toward uniformed behavioral health providers from all branches of the military.

Along with the panel, the course started its second week June 13, 2011, with presentations highlighting sexual assault prevention and response, provider self-care and ethical issues in deployment settings.

Retired Lt. Col. Nate Galbreath’s presentation on sexual assault focused on topics such as encouraging bystander intervention to stop assaults, using sexual assault response coordinators when faced with a situation, psychological injury caused by trauma and the potential for the under-reporting of cases.

Dr. David Riggs, CDP executive director, posed ethical questions for students to engage in healthy discussion, raising issues such as dual relationships with service members, managing multiple relationships when supporting many troops at once, and being prepared to cope with cases a psychologist might not be trained in, especially when they are the only mental health support on base.

“Deployed psychologists are expected to diagnose and deal with whatever shows up,” said Riggs. “If you encounter a situation you are not trained to handle, you will have to find ways to learn as much as you can or consult with others who know more than you. You are ethically bound to be as knowledgeable as you can in all areas of deployment mental health.”

Other presentations led by CDP experts throughout the week included ”Cognitive Processing Therapy,” by Laura Copland; “Identification and the Prevention and Treatment of Suicidal Behavior,” by Dr. Augusto Ruiz; and “Prolonged Exposure Therapy,” by Drs. Paula Domenici, William Brim and Riggs.

As the course came to a close, Riggs reflected on the significant impact it had on military providers being deployed.

“This course works to prepare uniformed psychologists for the various psychological health issues they may need to deal with throughout the deployment cycle and issues that might arise among service members and their families. First-hand accounts from recently deployed providers during the course’s panels shed personal light into these issues,” said Riggs. “Military providers leave the course with a pool of knowledge they can tap into to address all kinds of situations while deployed.”

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