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Comprehensive Soldier Fitness critique in Washington Post

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The article that I wrote with Roy Eidelson and Marc Pilisuk critiquing the military's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is discussed in a Washington Post article on CSF. Also discussed is a critique by by Penn psychologists James Coyne. Here are the sections of the article focussing on CSF critique:

"There's little reason to believe that these techniques would have any efficacy at all," said James C. Coyne, a psychology professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "It's very difficult to do anything preventively before the fact."

In cases of combat stress, he said, he fears that preventive techniques could disrupt a soldier's natural coping process.

"Getting upset, saying, 'I don't like feeling this way, this is a horrible way to feel,' can often be the first step in a very healthy, adaptive response," he said.

"Targeted, secondary prevention is much wiser and has much more of an evidence base than primary prevention," he said.

Another critic, Roy Eidelson, a board member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, added: "This is the largest experiment ever undertaken -- it involves a million soldiers."

"The stakes are very high," he said, "because we're talking about war. We're talking about life and death. And there's a lot that wasn't done to prepare for this experiment."


In January, at the suggestion of Seligman, a special issue of American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association, devoted 13 articles -- by Cornum, Casey and others -- to the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.

Norman B. Anderson, head of the association and the journal's editor, said Seligman's work is a hot topic, and so is the mental health of American military personnel.

But in March, a trio of psychologists -- Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk and Stephen Soldz -- wrote a blistering online essay accusing the journal of "cheerleading" and attacking the Army program as research, not training.

And as research, the program should involve the consent of its subjects, the soldiers, the authors stated. "Such research violates the Nuremberg Code developed during post-World War II trials of Nazi doctors," the authors said.

In addition, Seligman's resilience work in schools has been "only modestly and inconsistently effective," the authors contended, producing only small reductions in mild depression.

The critics also charged that the resilience work done in schools is probably not applicable to soldiers who face combat.

Finally, the authors worried that the program might actually harm soldiers: "Might soldiers who have been trained to resiliently view combat as a growth opportunity be more likely to ignore or underestimate real dangers, thereby placing themselves, their comrades, or civilians at heightened risk of harm?"

"Given those ethical questions," Eidelson said, "psychology . . . should be thinking really hard about whether this is a good idea."

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Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He was a psychological consultant on two of (more...)
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