I was recently asked to do a presentation about the Maine Resilience Program to a small group of psychotherapists who work with members of the military and their families. I was a little bit leery of doing this with “clinicians” who see themselves as being in the business of treating psychopathology. But having interned in the Veterans Administration during the Vietnam War and having worked with veterans over my 35-plus years as a clinical psychologist, I thought the skills and attitudes of resilience had a great deal of application to members of the military and especially to their family members as well as to the clinicians themselves and to the other clients that their community outpatient agencies served. I knew some of the concepts like post-traumatic growth might be in direct conflict with some of their ideas about the impact of trauma and adversity.
At the end of the presentation, I was sure that a number hadn’t really understood what I was talking about and really didn’t see very much relevance to what they were doing or ways in which they might adapt the material, the focus on coping skills and positive attitudes, to someone dealing with depression or post-traumatic stress. The idea of actually preventing these disorders from occurring through strengthening the skills and the attitudes of the individuals they were working with seemed quite foreign to a number in the audience. Although I was assuming this was the reaction that I might receive, I was still a little bit surprised, given the ability of many other groups, such as schoolteachers, firefighters, the elderly and others, to be very good at seeing the relevance of this material to themselves and their community. I had to sadly remind myself that the community mental health movement in the United States died in the 1980s, that prevention of any health condition in this country has usually been lip service at best (the Maine Smoking Cessation program funded by tobacco settlement funds being a bright exception to this rule) and that our mental health system, like the larger system it is a part of, is focused in general on illness, not on health. Their not getting it made complete sense.
Note: Granted, the material and the way in which it was presented would have to be adapted to this group, as it has been adapted for presentation to other groups.
Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
Author, Duct Tape Isn’t Enough