The Center for Deployment Psychology

As the number and duration of military deployments increase, so do the mental and behavioral health difficulties of service members and their families. To better meet the deployment-related mental and behavioral health needs of service members and their families, the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP), an innovative Department of Defense psychology training consortium, has been established. The CDP is a triservice center funded by Congress, under the leadership of Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla., Indian Shores). The purpose of the center is to train military and civilian psychologists, psychology interns/residents and other behavioral health professionals to provide high-quality deployment-related mental and behavioral health services to military personnel and their families.

Development of the Nationwide Organization

Designed in a "hub-and-spoke" framework, the CDP is headquartered at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda, Md., with Deployment Behavioral Health Psychologists (DBHPs) located at each of the ten Military Medical Centers that house APA-accredited psychology internship programs. Following a planning conference held in the spring of 2006, the center initiated activities in August when David Riggs, PhD, a nationally recognized expert in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was hired as executive director. Additional faculty members were hired soon after and the initial development of training materials began in September 2006. In November of 2006, the CDP headquarters staff occupied their permanent offices at the USUHS and plans to hold the inaugural training course in January 2007 were finalized.

Innovative Training Programs for Mental Health Professionals

The center aims to accomplish its primary mission of training mental health professionals through a series of innovative education and training programs, training and consultation with existing military training programs and community outreach. The core of the CDP training efforts is a two-week long intensive training course that will be held four to six times per year at USUHS, training approximately 25 professionals at each session. This will allow for highly specialized training of 100 to 150 mental and behavioral health professionals each year. The first of these training courses was conducted between Jan. 8 and Jan. 19, 2007.

Through a blend of lectures and experiential modules, participants who attend this course, titled "Topics in Deployment Psychology," will have the opportunity to learn about the cycle of military deployment, the experiences of service members and families, and current research findings. Participants have the opportunity to learn from military and civilian experts in the fields of trauma, physical medicine, neuropsychology and military medicine, as well as hearing directly from military mental and behavioral health professionals who share their own experiences of the challenges and rewards of providing care in forward operating areas.

The course presents information on current approaches to deployment medicine and mental health as well as the latest research finding on the long-term impact of military deployment on mental and behavioral health, including the incidence and prevalence of depression and PTSD. Participants learn empirically validated approaches for assessing and treating PTSD, including a one-day introduction to Prolonged Exposure therapy, which has been found very effective in treating PTSD. Further, because mental health professionals are called upon to provide care to severely injured military personnel, including amputees and those suffering brain injuries, attendees will learn to treat these challenging cases from internationally recognized clinicians and researchers in the areas of traumatic brain injury and amputee care. 

Unique Military Family Focus

Family members of military personnel who are, or have been, deployed face their own unique challenges. Family members may experience significant mental and behavioral health problems of their own, but families also play an important role in understanding and treating the returning service member. To prepare mental health professionals to address the needs of military families, the course includes a variety of discussions on how families prepare for deployment and how to advise family members to foster resilience during and after deployment. Special attention also will be paid to the concerns of reservists and National Guard soldiers who leave civilian occupations to deploy for long periods of time. Participants who attend the course will leave with a solid skill set for treating PTSD and offering comprehensive care to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have placed themselves in harm's way.

Workshops to Train Military and Civilian Mental Health Professionals

To augment the intensive two-week training program, the center is developing a series of workshops ranging from half-day teaching seminars on various topics to three-day programs that will train professionals in specific skills and techniques to treat the needs of military personnel and their families. Center faculty members have already participated in workshops sponsored by the Air Force Office of the Surgeon General to train Air Force behavioral health personnel to treat PTSD prior to their deployment to combat areas. Future workshops will be presented in cooperation with the military treatment facilities in which CDP staff psychologists are housed. In addition, the staff of the center will conduct workshops and seminars throughout the United States in an effort to disseminate information on deployment-related behavioral health as widely as possible. These efforts are designed primarily to train civilian professionals in clinical care issues relevant to returning veterans and their family members. The CDP program is designed to attract providers from across the nation and will attempt to target areas where individuals are unlikely to have ready access to military or veterans medical services.

Fostering Collaborative Agency Relationships

The center has established a website devoted to the psychology of deployment that will include a virtual library of resources available for behavioral health professionals in need of information about the deployment-related needs of service members and their families. To augment the work of the CDP staff, the center is developing collaborative relationships with other agencies and organizations whose efforts are focused on issues related to military deployment. These include programs within the Department of Defense (e.g., Army Behavioral Health Technology Office, Deployment Health Clinical Center, Citizen-soldier Support Program), the Department of Veterans' Affairs (e.g., National Center for PTSD, VISN 6 Mental Illness Research Education and Educational Center) and civilian organizations (e.g., American Psychological Association). The CDP will also develop a resource center that will provide recommendations and proposals to support policy and program development, operations and management.

Research

To establish the knowledge base necessary to adequately complete the training mission, the center plans to develop independent and collaborative research efforts. This research will focus on documenting the deployment-related needs of service members and their families, as well as interventions aimed at addressing these needs. This research effort will also include collection of data necessary to evaluate the impact of CDP efforts on the services provided to service members and their families. To support these research efforts, the CDP will establish a research fellowship in deployment psychology.