_Psychological Support for Military Personnel on Operations

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					                 Psychological Support for Military Personnel on Operations

                              Dominique Laffittan and Yves Biville
                Centre d'Etudes Sur la Selection du Personnel de l'Armée de Terre
                                   Compiegne Cedex, France

       The French troops and particularly the French Army have been deployed in several
operation theatres for years. The multiplicity and wide range of peacekeeping interventions have
been the subject of numerous analyses by the French staff headquarters. The soldiers' protection
has been reinforced and at the same time the necessity of developing the psychological support
for military personnel on operations has emerged. Such support has already been given in
numerous foreign armies for years.

        The first part will deal with the role of the various parties on operation theatres. Then, we
will show and explain the surprising and trivial role still played by psychology in this context, in
spite of the staff headquarters determination to develop the concept of psychological support and
make the collaboration and division of tasks between the various parties easier.


1/ On the operation theatre :

France has a long tradition of foreign intervention and troops deployment in numerous

This tradition resulted in the international recognition of lots of skills. In particular, the French
defence system is deployed, to a larger extent, compared to the USA, in intervention zones. This
attitude rests on a long colonial tradition which makes it necessary for the High Command to
leave subordinates (captain and first lieutenants or non-commissioned officers) a larger margin of
initiative and the possibility to make contacts with the population as a whole.

This plan of action on the field requires a particular adaptation of the troops and explains the
differences noticed in the factors of stress between the various contingents of peace keeping
forces in Bosnia, Somalia or Central Africa (for instance, such factors of stress as  travel
restrictions  or  feeling confined  are not always the same between French forces and US

The French High Command pays great attention to the moral and mental factors but the
fragmented information and the affective implication of the troops in contact with different
populations can also be sensitive to the rumors and contradictory plans of action (to help or not
to help the population according to the periods of engaging).

Note: the views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of the department of the Army, or
the department of Defence.
To help, treat or understand combatants and provide them with a medical, psychological
or spiritual support, various parties concur to the High Commands action.

The Health Support :

It surrounds the troops with efficiency. Here again, it is part of an old colonial tradition and of a
legal and ethical choice: doctors, and not only nurses, remain close to the soldiers. Thus, there are
one or two doctors per regiment and sometimes a military surgeon (captain) per company or for
isolated platoons.

These doctors, who were appropriately trained for treating the soldiers on the front line, are an
integral part of the troops. The soldiers personnel often confide in them, even if the military
psychiatrists acknowledge the lack of training as far as psychological support is concerned.

The presence of military chaplains :

As numerous foreign units, France employs military chaplains to support its troops. Serving in
uniform and often in a regiment or battalion service, they are well-received by the soldiers and
officers. Their presence is usual and their action often takes a psychological, rather than spiritual,

Three religions are represented: the catholic chaplains, the Protestant clergymen and the rabbis.
Though Islam is the second religion in France, there is not any representative in the field. This is
mainly due to the absence of official representative of the Muslim religion (no clergy).
Besides, there is no military Academy for chaplains in France, unlike in the USA.

The psychiatrists :

As the psychiatrists are not traditionally well represented in the field in France as well as in
operations, their number have nevertheless been increased since the Lebanon, the Gulf War and
the traumatizing events in Rwanda and particularly in Bosnia.

The role of the psychiatrists, who are in charge of mental health, has not always been fully
acknowledged within the forces. Thus, the enlightenment of slight or deep psychic troubles
during the last engagements accounts for a come-back and a dominant will for intervention as far
as psychological support is concerned.

In this way, as they are doctors and specialists in mental care, psychiatrists fully claim that their
presence on the operation scene is a priority, thus excluding any action from the psychologists
out of the sphere of the army health service.

Their statement is clear:  compared to psychologists whose academic knowledge,
according to them, cannot be but general, the psychiatrists action appear to be a real
therapy insofar as their status and position give them the possibility to establish privileged
relations with their patients.

They are thus fully integrated in the medical team as soon as the operation begins.

        - On the front line : they are integrated into the health group which plays a central part in
relation to the deployment of the various units. His role is to ensure the treatment of reactions
after the fight.

       - On the back line : they receive, treat in emergency and evacuate to France the
psychiatric cases from the front line. Moreover, they take part in all the actions concerning
mental health and command advice.

In order to keep the High Command informed of the problems which could affect the soldier's
morale, another party has appeared in the field. It is the officers in charge of studies of the
 Centre de Relations Humaines (CHR)  of the French Army.

At first, this Centre included psychologists and sociologists. However, no psychologist has
worked or been assigned in this centre since 1983. But in our centre which is the Centre
d'Etudes Sur la Selection de l'Armée de Terre.

This Human Relations Centre was first created to keep the Army staff commander informed of
the apparition of psychological or sociological traumas within the forces. Once the psychologists
were discharged, this mission has remained and it has become usual to call it  moral force  or
simply  morale . This conjuring trick has led to the eviction of the very few army psychologists
from the psychological support action.

The officers in charge of studies of the Human Relations Centre get a one-year training in
sociology pass a masters degree. They do not receive any training in clinical or social
psychology though they often use the concepts of psychology.

Their role, while spending three weeks in the field, is to gather any information or clues that
could affect the troop's morale. Their methodology assumes the concepts of sociology
organisations, and especially the strategic analysis developed by Michel Crozier in France. It is
based on a technique using interviews and questionnaires.

Their analysis, which are most of the time judicious and relevant, are based on a series of factors
which international literature (Stouffer and Janowitz) studied a long time ago and corroborated in
the field.

The morale evaluation of humane component can be described in six points :

       -The unity cohesion
       -The reliance on the chief
       -The reliance on the means
       -A feeling of justifiability of the action
       -Personal situation

When informed, the command can take measures in order to maintain, correct or improve a
units morale.

The last expected parties, the psychologists :

At the present time, no psychologists are dispatched on external operations. Our intervention in
Bosnia (Colonel Y. Biville and Lieutenant Colonel Laffitan) in 1995-1996 was inscribed within a
specific research contract conducted in collaboration with two researchers from the University of
Aix-en-Provence on a Mountain Infantry Battalion based on the Ingman mountains over

During that stay, we could compare the French and American action methods on psychological
support with Major Paul Bartone as a liaison officer.

While most western countries employ front line psychologists on external operation scenes,
France has not yet acknowledged the utility of psychologists in the field.
We will come back to that situation in a moment.

2/The back line parties

Every deployment implies family support as an important element of the fighter's moral.
For a few years, the French Army have gradually developed adapted structures.
Among these ones you can quote :

- The organization of family support which is centered round the  family support group  whose
missions and means were the subject of a memento.
Five departments: the high command, the administration, the jurisdictional, the information and
the social action departments in order of appearance deal with unit echelons, the administrative,
financial, material needs, the information needs and finally the psychological and moral needs.

- The implementation of a solidarity agreement between the army and the district councils and
the creation of a  solidarity defence  association which aims at showing to the personnel sent

on an assignment abroad the support given to their action (donations, parcels, relaxation stays...).

- Lastly an after-care department for the wounded of the Army has been created (CABAT:
Cellule dAssociation aux Bless s de LArm e de Terre).Though this department still has a
very reduced personnel, it is the only one for the moment in the French armies. Its goal is to
accompany the wounded soldiers and their families by responding to the material difficulties
encountered (reception of the families during the hospitalization). It also deals with the problems
of reintegration in working life.

- Whereas the US Army employs in operations officers specialized in social problems (that is
social workers) as well as psychologists or psychiatrists its  combat stress detachment  units,
the French Army does not use for the moment its social workers on external operations..
The professionalization and the increasing number of women in the French armies allows us to
think we should consider it in the near future.

As described below, the posts of everyone seem well defined for command.

- The health assistant (unit doctor for the front line forces) treats, gives account of the
sanitary conditions and visits the unit first aid posts.

- The psychiatrist, in addition to the specific actions which have been defined, informs the
high command and make suggestions according to his analysis of the situations.

- The high command helped by its  moral assistant  take decisions in terms of command
by using the front-line officer's observation by taking into account the analyses of the
officers of the Humane Relations Centre.


1/ The role of psychology

At this stage of analysis, it is important to take into account the reasons explaining the absence of

First of all, the number of qualified psychologists in the armed forces is very low: between five
and ten persons. Then, most of the psychologists are officers belonging to such arms as infantry,
military engineering ...

In France like in most countries, the title of psychologist is protected, follows a professional code
of ethics, and requires at least five years to be fully acquired.

It does mean that an officer, even trained in a military Academy, who gets in this way, has to take
up entirely new specialized studies and also give up every hopes of command, if the Army wants
to make his formation profitable.

On the contrary, the title of sociologist is not protected, so one year is enough to graduate in
sociology, as soon as an officer has been trained in the military Academy. The training allows
them to become at the same time specialists in social science and also preserve their military
career and they can attend courses at the War College too.

This situation combined with the lack of knowledge of the headquarters staff about the
differences between psychologists and sociologists results in the mixture between various
subjects and in employing only sociologists, who belong to a centre whose aim is historically and
officially to  detect the appearances of psychological or sociologic phenomena in the Army .

Adding that this centre directly depends on headquarters staff and that its function is to dispatch
social science specialists in the field, the ability of psychologists to intervene is very limited..
This position is reinforced by the systematic attitude of the psychiatrists of the health service,
who use their prerogatives and their status of doctors to ensure an exclusive intervention in the
psychological domain.

2/ The likely evolution

Can or should this situation be continued ?

The situation is now as follows: the psychologists of the Air Force are exclusively in charge with
the selection and depend on the high command of the training schools of the Air Force which do
not deal with the psychological support.

The Navy has a certain number of applied psychology centres based in ports but the command of
those centres is delegated to a psychiatrist.

The Gendarmerie has at its disposal a centre exclusively devoted to the selection of the personnel
and a committee linked to the personnel management.

The Army has at its disposal a centre of studies for the selection of its personnel, but this centre
will be dissolved within the next few weeks. The few psychologists are dispatched in various
places where their specialty is not much valued.

Unlike the Army, the three other armies employ their psychologists to analyze the troops morale
exclusively in France, but never on operations, while it is normal and usual practice in foreign

The Army traditionally entrusts this task to the CHR, which is also in charge with defining
and analyzing the Armys needs in specialists in social science. It is quite obvious that the
French Army will not resort to psychologists in the field, for it would  undermine  the
sociologist's role.

This situation, often denounced, raises our foreign friends misunderstanding.

However, a tendency is now becoming apparent: the Headquarters staff, determined to develop
the psychological support of the troops, set up a commission for studies. Our centre attended this
Commission but unfortunately our counterparts of the Navy, Air Force and Gendarmerie did not.

One year of reflection, exchanges, clashes of powers and abilities, led to a scheme aiming at
dividing tasks.

In the slides, you will notice that the specialists of the human factor are once again mixed up. The
tasks of the officers-experts in human factor were mainly established by psychologists but it was
not quite possible to differentiate the roles of each party, here again for reasons of power.

It must be noted that psychiatrists have kept  individual support to people and groups confronted
with difficulties  which is in their book the responsibility of the Health service, and especially
that of the psychiatrist himself.

The psychiatrists have also kept both the psychopathological selection and the examination of
critical incidents and accidents.

The USAMRU, the crisis psychological centre of the Belgian army or the psychological services
of the Croatian army have however in this domain knowledge and skills that come from their
experience as psychologists.

It is a problem of competencies and the Headquarter staff do not want to decide between
one solution and the other and prefers to let the specialists take themselves the good
decision. It is like squaring the circle !

This maybe too long of a bird's eye view of the existent procedures for psychological
support in France shows that a lot of work still remains to be done in the French Army in
order :

- to recruit and train on the spot psychologists

- to make people aware of their competence and the part they have to take in psychological

- to profusely give away the experience accounts on both a national and individual level

- to utterly make them recognized as both officers and psychologists.

During the latest meeting on the International Army psychological symposium that was held in
Vienna in May 1997, a Swedish college considered creating an International association for
military psychology.

Maybe it is the line to follow in order to share our  interests and our problems .

I think we are in a position to justify a psychological support...

My deepest thanks for your attention.

                                            ANNEX 1


The psychological support is a command coordinated action that enables the fulfillment of the
mission given to the committed forces in a specific zone of operations by integrating all the
aspects of the human factors.

That action works on the following spheres:

- combat effectiveness

- prevention, management and solution to distressing and unstable situations

- individual and collective psychological stability

- mental health care

It exerts permanently from the personnel preparation for engagement up to his accompaniment
after he gets back.

Both the committed element and the reach in its global environment are involved

                                    ANNEX 2

                       OF PERSONNEL TRAINING

  RESPONSIBLE                           ACTIONS TO CARRY OUT

Command              Physical and technical training as well as moral strength in the units,
Officers             accordingly to the regulation.
 Human factor 
                     Participate in the detection of individuals who show behavior
                     disorders or having social difficulties.

                     A wide participation and an increased cohesion within formation.

Psychiatrists and    - Detection of the personnel that shows behavior disorders.
first line doctors
                     - In the formation schools, awareness campaigns about the various
                     psychological expressions of individual crisis situation.

Officers, experts,   Initial psychotechnical and psychological individual selection plus
sociologists and     competence evaluation
                     Education in the spheres of mental and affective individual functions;
                     command psychology, psychosociological approach of an
                     organization and team work; detection of the stress signs in
                     operation; stress management; techniques of negotiation and solution
                     to conflicts; awareness to the phenomena linked to the intercultural

                     Keep informed and heighten the managerial staff and family

                                    ANNEX 3


    RESPONSIBLE                           ACTIONS TO CARRY OUT

Command and officer       Setting up  family care  cells to support the families of
 human factor           personnel on operations.

                          Eviction of non-available personnel because of family or social

                          Intensification of actions liable to increase cohesion
                          (Information, meetings with families, briefings and dinners,
                          contests, cohesion maneuvers ...) and preparation duties in all

Psychiatrists and first   - Common personnel steady and health preparation.
line doctors
                          - Physical and medical examination

                          - Visits during the cohesion camp

Officers, expert          Specific visits according to the type of mission at the cohesion
sociologists,             camp
                          Homogenization of knowledge and common use in the previous
                          spheres, as well as in helping the commands in the formation
                          team for special operations

                          Preparation to the family separation and family information
                          about the existence of structures that could handle.

                                     ANNEX 4


   RESPONSIBLE                             ACTIONS TO CARRY OUT

Command                  Personnel control in liaison with the health service.
Officer  human
factor                  Put life into the  rear base  and the  family care calls  in
                         liaison with the health service and the different experts and
                         specialists in human and social science.

                         - Moral estimation.

                         Prospective identification of the risk factors.

                         - Steady, assessment and synthesis of the questions linked to the
                         human factors, backed by the health service and the officers
                         coming from the setting up cell in the G1 section of the Joint
                         theatre HQ.

Psychiatrists and first Direction, treatment in their content or  medevac  the
line doctors            individuals at risk or those who show behavior disorders. (On a
                        mental security basis) Intervention on the command staff.

Officers, experts                                   On operations
sociologists and
psychologists            - Synthesis given to the command staff about work and life
                         standards; a new light on the stress factors and their probable

                         - Human environment factors evaluation (population and
                         belligerents behavior; psychological action, misinformation).

Individual and collective soldier support, check the vulnerable
people; provide help to end inter or intra group conflicts. Analyze
the incidents and collect information in order to take into account
the experiences and situation that will help in the selection of
personnel and forces preparation.

                            In the rear
Their role is to support the families in liaison with the command

                                      ANNEX 5


   RESPONSIBLE                             ACTIONS TO CARRY OUT

Command                   - Rewards
Officer  human
factor                   - Organize a parade for the disbanding of the unit, back from the

                          - Follow through the personnel that has been taken in charge by
                          the "wounded help cell"

                          - Information and take the drama out of postponed effects

                          - Detection of unadapted behaviors in liaison with the medical
                          branch and the officers experts, sociologists and psychologists

                          - Analysis of the encountered dysfunction and proposals to
                          higher command

                          - Analysis of the problems and adaptation of the actions to carry
                          out in the sphere of: psychological preparation in order to
                          improve the combat effectiveness of the units

                          - Steady, check up and synthesis of the questions relatives to the
                          human factor

Psychiatrists and first   - To help the command staff means to participate in the
line doctors              debriefings and exhibit the balances and synthesis of teachings

Officers, experts,        - Supporting the personnel is done by after-mission interviews and
sociologists and          by professional family and social reinsertion of the soldiers
                          - A check up of competencies and a professional restreaming
                          could be suggested

- The acquired teachings expertise are grouped , capitalized, issued
and exchanged inland or abroad

- It leads on to the preparation of future missions


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