Troops’ PTSD May Be Reduced With Mind Fitness
September 28, 2010 –A mind fitness program created by a Georgetown professor and being tested by the Department of Defense may help troops operate more effectively in complex counterinsurgency environments while protecting them from psychological injury.
Such injury includes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which has affected many returning troops.
Elizabeth Stanley, a security studies professor at the Walsh School of Foreign Service and a former U.S. Army officer, created the program -- Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) -- to help protect military service members from the effects of prolonged or extreme stress.
“The unpredictability, ambiguity and fast pace of today’s operational environment demand that troops be prepared for unexpected challenges,” Stanley says. “The best preparation for operating effectively in such an environment, with the least harm to themselves and to others, is a fit mind.”
Paying Attention and Recovering From Stress
MMFT, pronounced M-Fit, has been studied with Marines and Army soldiers.
A central feature of MMFT is mindfulness training. By training attention in this way, “we increase our bandwidth for what’s happening right now,” Stanley says.
The training teaches about the effects of stress on the body and mind and teaches skills for using mindfulness to support the body’s recovery from stress.
“MMFT also explores ways to use mindfulness to make effective decisions, rather than reacting inappropriately from habit or unconscious impulse,” Stanley explains. “All of these skills are then applied to the military operational setting.”
The professor first trained 35 Marines in MMFT in 2008 before they deployed to Iraq as a part of a pilot study. Her research partner, Amishi Jha of the University of Miami, collected data before and after the training.
“The more the Marines practiced MMFT exercises, the more they improved their working memory capacity -- the ability to control attention over time -- and the more they experienced fewer negative emotions and more positive emotions,” Stanley says.
Clarity of Purpose
Marine Major Jeff Davis, who commanded the pilot study for the Marines, says he originally feared the training would “create someone less disposed to action or more disposed to over-thinking.”
“But it was quite the opposite,” he says. MMFT “made the person more attentive, and when they did decide to act, they had a clear idea of what they were going to do and had a clarity of purpose.”
Next Step: Hawaii
This past April, Stanley travelled to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii to train Army soldiers for a larger study evaluating different versions of MMFT compared to another stress resilience training.
Jha’s neuroscience team is gathering data at multiple points in time before and after the soldiers’ upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
For more information, visit Stanley’s nonprofit Mind Fitness Training Institute website.