Army Trains Soldiers in Positive Thinking

In its latest attempt to provide Soldiers with mental resilience, the US Army is requiring each of its Soldiers to receive psychological training conducted through a $117 million program by the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center.  The 10-day course

teaches concepts such as focusing on what goes right, expressing gratitude, and analyzing and correcting negative views of ambiguous events.

In short, it is “the power of positive thinking.”  The program is not without its critics, who blast the psychological theory as “snake oil” and even potentially detrimental.

To its credit, the Army is trying, as previously discussed, and has even enlisted some unusual methods.  It has included Chaplains and psychologists, mental health specialists and others.  Unfortunately, the Army’s strategy seems to be a shotgun of try-everything-and-see-what-works, with the problem being that the results of mental resilience training likely won’t be quantifiable for years–if ever.

Religion is not a panacea for mental health issues such as these.  People of faith still suffer from depression and commit suicide, for example.  Still, faith can play an important role in the mental and emotional resiliency of men and women placed in extreme positions, as members of the US military are.

One wonders if one cause of the Army’s need to scramble for a salve to heal its psychological wounds is the decline of religion in society in general, which means that people are entering the military without the firm mental and emotional foundation that might be provided by a strong faith.  General Casey notes, for example, that they are addressing an issue not of the Army’s mission, but of the Army’s recruits:

Soldiers are “not coming into the service with the coping skills they need,” Casey told the Philadelphia Inquirer in a story posted on the Positive Psychology Center’s Web site.

Thus, the problem is, in some people’s opinions, a new one.  Veterans of the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam may have suffered emotionally and mentally, but because of the societal norms at the time–which, interestingly, viewed religion differently than today–they had different (or better) “coping skills” than soldiers today.

In the Army’s defense, they have an enormous challenge.  With a million soldiers serving at their nation’s call, the military is endeavoring to provide them not only the tools they need for combat, but also the resources they require to return from combat and successfully reintegrate into society.  It is a tall order, but one that the military–and the American society–owes the men and women serving their country every day.