A unique training program continues its tour of duty – 2009

August 2009

The Center for Deployment Psychology looks back on the three years since its creation and contemplates the future.

By Max Sewell, APA Education Government Relations Office Summer Intern, and
Nina Levitt, EdD, Director, Education Government Relations Office

The Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) is poised to have its proposed 2010 budget approved by the Department of Defense (DoD), making this its second year to be included with other military mental health programs under the auspices of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). The CDP trains military and civilian psychologists, psychology interns and residents, and other mental health professionals serving members of the military and their families across the deployment cycle. The CDP provides expertise and information-sharing in order to help providers more effectively treat mental health disorders associated with combat deployments, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With resources made available from the 2010 budget, the CDP plans to expand its training efforts to include providing online access to behavioral health resources that will be available to military and civilian providers.       

The result of successful advocacy efforts by APA member Herb Goldstein, PhD, and Education Government Relations staff, the CDP was established in November 2006 with a $3.4 million congressional appropriation spearheaded by Rep. Bill Young (D-FL). This initiative would not have been possible without the involvement of Army, Navy, and Air Force psychologists who drafted an agenda for the proposed CDP and convened a planning conference in Orlando, FL, in April 2006 to develop a curriculum outline for an intensive training course. The CDP was launched with a staff of six members and a broad mission to conduct training workshops and lectures to prepare professionals to effectively address the psychological stress and trauma that military service members and families face during deployments and when reintegrating service members after the deployment.

Since its creation three years ago, the CDP has provided two-week training workshops to military and civilian psychologists and other behavioral heath professionals at its headquarters at the Uniformed Services University (USU) of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Also, with staff members located at ten satellite sites, the CDP has provided ongoing training and education on issues related to psychological health and deployment to military healthcare providers throughout the country. In an effort to expand the number of providers trained to address the needs of service members and their families, the CDP has developed additional training opportunities. For example, the CDP offers a one-week course several times per year tailored to civilian licensed mental health providers who are treating military personnel, veterans and their families. Offered at sites around the country, this workshop provides information on military culture; the impact of deployment stress on service members and their families; the identification of and effective interventions for PTSD, depression, and suicidal behavior; as well as basic information on the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI).  The CDP values evidence-based treatment programs and incorporates these treatments into its training workshops. For example, modules focused on the treatment of PTSD include training in Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) and/or Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).

Growing to Meet the Need & Gaining Critical Recognition

Because of an increasing demand for the training provided by the CDP and the outstanding performance of the Center, the program has grown considerably and will soon support a staff of 22. The CDP has trained over 2,300 psychologists and other behavioral health professionals in the first three years of its existence. The demand for its programs continues to grow and the CDP is expanding to meet this demand. The success of the CDP is evident not only from the growing numbers of trained providers, but also from the quality of the training. CDP programs have been applauded by both military leaders and psychologists for providing participants with concrete tools with which to address the effects of deployment and combat stress. In 2008 the CDP was incorporated into the DoD’s Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, a move that provides greater stability of funding.

Recently, during a tour of the CDP’s office in Bethesda, MD, the author had the privilege of observing one of the two-week training sessions firsthand. In a crowded auditorium, students— mostly in military uniform—listened to a lecture on the etiology of PTSD. The presenter examined a number of topics, from abnormal chemical levels to genetic factors impacting psychological resilience, addressing both environmental and physiological vulnerabilities to developing PTSD.

Many of the presenters at the session were military psychologists who have recently been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. During this two-week course–offered five times a year—presenters such as these share with the participants both their own experience related to deployment and their experience with evidence-based practices. One of the major components of the two-week and one-week trainings is the promotion of risk-management and suicide-awareness techniques. The CDP has worked with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) to identify a panel of military family members that speaks at the two-week course about the unique effects of deployment on military families.

CDP’s Director Looks to the Future

David Riggs, PhD, has been the Director of the CDP since its creation and has been at its helm during this time of expansion and achievement. During his career as a psychologist, Dr. Riggs has maintained a strong focus on trauma and its impact on individuals and families. Previously, he held positions as a research clinical psychologist at the Behavioral Science Division of the National Center for PTSD. He has published over 60 articles and book chapters pertaining to trauma, anxiety, and psychotherapy.

Looking to the future, Dr. Riggs hopes to improve and expand the CDP. The CDP has already doubled the number of participants who attend the current two-week course to 50 participants in each course. Dr. Riggs plans to increase access to the training workshops to a greater number of interested professionals, especially community providers working with the veteran population. He intends to develop a more advanced set of training programs, as well as myriad web-based services, including online courses and a consultation system that will allow behavioral health professionals who have completed CDP training to consult with one another and with experts. The CDP anticipants expanding its training efforts outside of the USU Headquarters with plans to deliver eight one-week courses across the country to audiences of 100 or more civilian clinicians, and developing mobile training teams that will provide a series of two- and three-day workshops on PE or CPT at various military treatment facilities. Yet Dr. Riggs’ vision of the CDP’s future efforts doesn’t end there. The hope is to eventually be able to engage in groundbreaking resilience training for military behavioral health providers who will deploy, as well as to add components of psychology into the Defense Readiness Training Institute.

Without question, the CDP is making a significant difference in the lives of our nation’s service personnel and their families by better equipping behavioral health professionals with the skills they need to provide effective assistance to our troops and their loved ones.