Nav: Home

Military families benefit from UCLA-developed resilience program

December 15, 2015

Across the U.S., families of troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Uganda and other hot spots are emailing photos of their holiday feasts to their loved ones overseas -- and asking them to respond with pictures of their own holiday celebrations.

The strategy is part of a UCLA-developed program aimed at easing the wear and tear on military families who are grappling with challenges of multiple deployments and combat-related injuries, all of which can stir destructive and difficult-to-control emotions.

"It's really important to somehow keep the deployed parent salient in the minds of their children, and to incorporate the absent parent into holiday rituals," said Catherine Mogil, a UCLA child psychologist.

A new study about that program shows that it really does help improve people's ability to bounce back from challenges. The report will be published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

A team of 12 researchers from UCLA, Harvard University and the military found that the FOCUS program reduced by one-half the number of troops, spouses and children suffering from the most problematic psychological and emotional symptoms. And the improvements actually increased over time.

"We knew we were doing good work at the military bases because we could feel it, but it's really exciting to have such strong data demonstrating the power of the program," said Mogil, a co-author of the study and director of training and intervention development at the Nathanson Family Resilience Center at UCLA.

Families OverComing Under Stress, or FOCUS, is an eight-week program developed at UCLA and administered since 2008 under a contract from the Bureau of Navy Medicine and Surgery. Delivered by specially trained behavioral health professionals at military bases, the intervention teaches the entire family approaches for overcoming misunderstandings, diminishing tensions, handling difficult emotions and banding together.

Some of the lessons, such including deployed parents in family events, are also a part of other interventions. Others, such as creating a "narrative timeline" of family experiences, were created for FOCUS.

At the core of the program is coaching for each family member on how to explain the ways in which deployments or other challenging experiences have affected him or her, which is intended to shed light on misunderstandings, allow others to understand unappreciated burdens they're carrying, build empathy and compassion, and, ultimately, help the family understand its strengths and weaknesses.

"One family might be dealing with identifying new roles and responsibilities when a deployed parent returns from a deployment and could need to work more on communication and problem-solving skills," said Patricia Lester, the study's lead author, a professor of psychiatry in UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and director of the Nathanson Center. "Another might need the most help with regulating emotions and keeping their cool when stressful situations arise."

The study is believed to be the largest long-term evaluation of a prevention program to enhance psychological health for military families. Researchers looked at 2,615 families at 15 Navy and Marine Corps bases who participated in FOCUS between 2008 and 2013. Family members filled questionnaires designed to identify psychological distress when they began the program, and again immediately following the training, one month later and six months later.

When they began the intervention, almost one-quarter of the troops and their civilian spouses reported clinically significant levels of anxiety and just over one-quarter reported clinically meaningful levels of depression. In addition, 31 percent of civilian parents and 27 percent of service members were found to have clinically meaningful symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A total of 3,810 children were evaluated as part of the study, and they were also found to be suffering. According to information provided by the parents, 35 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls had behavior problems (frequently losing their temper or seeming depressed, tearful or unhappy, for example) and 19 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls were lacking in so-called pro-social behaviors, such as being considerate of other's feelings or sharing with other children.

Overall family dynamics also were problematic for some families. Forty-two percent of civilian parents and 49 percent of service member parents reported increased levels of distress related to effective problem solving, communication and closeness.

"In these numbers we really see the toll that the multiple deployments take on families," said William Saltzman, a co-author of the study, associate director of the Nathanson Center and one of the developers of FOCUS.

The program did help families substantially in several areas, evaluators report. Among them:
  • The percentage of parents who were determined to be at risk for anxiety and depressive symptoms dropped to 11 percent from 23 percent.

  • The prevalence of children with the highest number of behavior problems dropped to less than 14 percent from 30 percent; the prevalence of children with the most pro-social behavior difficulties dropped to 9 percent from 15 percent.

  • The prevalence of PTSD symptoms declined significantly among those who were deployed and their spouses at home, although civilian parents improved the most: Those with symptoms dropped to 16 percent from 31 percent.

Overall, Lester said, the findings underscore the value of family-centered services to help families facing adversity.

"Resilience approaches that work with the family as a whole strengthen the whole system, helping to support both parents and children as they navigate the challenges of wartime deployments and reintegration to life at home," she said.
-end-


University of California - Los Angeles

Related Behavior Problems Articles:

Epigenetic changes at birth could explain later behavior problems
Epigenetic changes present at birth -- in genes related to addiction and aggression -- could be linked to conduct problems in children, according to a new study by King's College London and the University of Bristol.
Body- and sex related problems are separate from other forms of psychological problems
Body- and sex related problems constitute a distinct group of psychological ailments that is most common in middle aged women, according to scientific research.
Early behavior problems impact long-term educational attainment more for boys than girls
A new study finds that behavioral problems in early childhood have a larger negative effect on high school and college completion rates for boys than girls, which partially explains the substantial gender gap in educational attainment that currently exists in the United States.
For young adults, sleep problems predict later pain problems
For at least some groups of 'emerging adults,' sleep problems are a predictor of chronic pain and worsening pain severity over time, suggests a study in PAIN®, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain®.
How epigenetics can affect ants' behavior
By applying compounds that cause epigenetic changes to ants, researchers were able to change the insects' behavior.
Switching on paternal behavior
Male mice dramatically change their social behavior towards newborn pups after mating and cohabitation with pregnant females.
Hormones influence unethical behavior
Hormones play a two-part role in encouraging and reinforcing cheating and other unethical behavior, according to research from Harvard University and The University of Texas at Austin.
Childhood psychiatric problems associated with problems in adulthood
Children with psychiatric problems were more likely to have health, legal, financial and social problems as adults even if their psychiatric disorders did not persist into adulthood and even if they did not meet the full diagnostic criteria for a disorder, according to an article published online by JAMA Psychiatry.
Early behavior problems may be linked to 'aging' biomarkers in preschoolers
Preschoolers with oppositional defiant behavior are more likely to have shorter telomeres, a hallmark of cellular aging, which in adults is associated with increased risk for chronic diseases and conditions like diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Balanced behavior with IRBIT
At the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, researchers have identified the protein IRBIT as a key player in preventing these behaviors from developing.

Related Behavior Problems Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".