Psychological Health Research Leads to Readiness and Resilience

By Capt. Scott L. Johnston, MSC, USN, director, Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control

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Research, in its most basic definition, is the act of carefully studying a specific subject to gain more information. At the
Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC), science is the foundation of everything that we do and it’s essential to fulfilling our mission of improving the psychological health of Sailors and Marines.  

By facilitating research, the staff at NCCOSC is helping to improve understanding of psychological health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress-related disorders. As our knowledge grows, we can help develop more effective, evidence-based treatments and improve outcomes for those Sailors and Marines affected by psychological health injuries.

The more we learn about specific conditions and their treatments, the better we understand how they develop so that we can alleviate the symptoms or duration of psychological injuries. Studying psychological health also consists of examining what makes individuals resilient, which could help prevent stress injuries before they occur. And it all begins with research.

Whether helping to assess compassion fatigue and contributing factors at a military treatment facility (MTF) to help mitigate provider stress or evaluating the impact of a music therapy program on reducing PTSD symptoms, NCCOSC is leading the way in facilitating meaningful research that enhances the well-being of Sailors, Marines and those who care for them.

At NCCOSC, our Research Facilitation Department is made up of a team of dedicated professionals with backgrounds in clinical and research psychology, public health, statistics and clinical research coordination. These subject-matter experts collaborate with Navy providers, academics, and Navy and Marine Corps leaders to facilitate research from start to finish.  The NCCOSC team assists with the entire process from study design, obtaining Internal Review Board (IRB) approval, recruiting participants, data collection and management, and disseminating results. 

Since we were stood up in 2008, NCCOSC has supported over 60 IRB-approved studies and program evaluations.  The research supported by NCCOSC has:

  • Increased understanding of the different aspects of PTSD and stress-related disorders to include advancements in better identifying these disorders as well as what causes and maintains them
  • Made progress in understanding how stress-related disorders impact emotional and  physical well-being
  • Helped test empirically validated treatments for PTSD
  • Aided in the development of targeted educational programs and tools to teach service members how to identify stress in themselves, their peers, and those they lead
  • Examined the effectiveness of screening tools to identify those at risk for developing PTSD and stress-related disorders

In addition to all that we’ve learned from our careful study of psychological health, our research has also shown that there is still much work to be done.  

We have learned that PTSD and stress-related disorders don’t only stem from fear but can also develop from anger, loss, and feelings of betrayal. Future research can help determine if treatments should be modified depending on whether or not the disorder is fear-based.  NCCOSC is also studying other variables and personal factors to determine how they impact the overall health of our Sailors and Marines. Specifically, this will include developing a better understanding of the psychological health of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) service members since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Resilience will also be a focus of future research as we take a proactive stance to prevent stress injuries before they occur.  We will also continue to be collaborative as we work jointly with other Navy and Marine Corps leaders and departments to ensure the ultimate goal of promoting the psychological health and well-being of all our service members no matter which uniform they wear.

At NCCOSC, we see a future filled with innovative and relevant research that will increase our knowledge of psychological health and best practices, ultimately contributing to the readiness and resilience of our Sailor and Marines as they meet the challenges of military service in the 21st Century.

For more information and psychological health resources, please visit the NCCOSC website.