New Research Supports CBT for Families of Deployed Military Personnel

Military families are especially vulnerable to emotional and psychological problems. Although the military offers interventions at pre-deployment and deployment stages, few programs address reintegration. Because every stage of deployment affects the emotional well-being of the spouse and children of the deployed member, new recommendations are being made for measures to address all stressors that can negatively impact these family members. A team from George Mason University, Madigan Army Medical Center and Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, researched data from military spouses and youth to come up with their recommendations. They said, “Military youth are generally resilient and are able to successfully adjust to and cope with deployment related stressors. However, when stressors become chronic and adequate support is unavailable, stressors associated with the deployment cycle can lead to youth emotional and behavioral problems.” Because family members experience a torrent of emotions, from anxiety, depression, financial stress and worry, during all phases of deployment, the team believes that it is imperative that the spouse and children have interventions that address the entire spectrum of emotional overwhelm. In their study, more than half of the spouses of deployed members reported worry, sadness, anxiety and loneliness. And just under 40% reported having difficulty concentrating, sleeping and controlling anger. Depression and stress were other commonly cited mental health issues in this group. The team also noted that in previous studies, children experienced a nearly 20 percent increase in stress and over 10 percent more frequency of outpatient mental health visits. School and sleep problems were evident in most of the children as well.

The team believes that these family members should receive treatment that includes skill building techniques. “Along these lines, cognitive behavioral therapy may offer a particularly promising approach for youth experiencing emotional and behavioral health problems associated with deployment related distress,” they said. “CBT has been shown to be efficacious in facilitating youth adjustment to stressors that involve parental separation as well as addressing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior.” They added that treatment should be sensitive to military culture and should be accessible and affordable to all military families.

Esposito-Smythers, C., Wolff, J., Lemmon, K. M., Bodzy, M., Swenson, R. R., & Spirito, A. (2011, June 27). Military Youth and the Deployment Cycle: Emotional Health Consequences and Recommendations for Intervention. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024534

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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    August 8th, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    It can get very stressful having a family member in the AF…Having them in dangerous conditions thousands of miles away is never going to be comfortable and can lead to a lot of worry and stress…Programs that can help people in such situations are always welcome.

  • Jenna


    August 9th, 2011 at 4:23 AM

    I constantly worry about my family’s well being and safety and this gives me headaches at times and I need to call them to ensure they’re fine. I have NO IDEA how it would feel to have someone from your family involved in an ongoing war…It would drive me crazy just thinking about their safety 1,000,000 times a day.

  • Jean v

    Jean v

    August 9th, 2011 at 4:47 AM

    I can’t imagine the stress of having to move around all of the time. Especially hard for the kids.

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