¶ … combat related stress on learning in an academic environment: a qualitative case study" by Kevin Peter Shea
Conflict and military conflict are inherited parts of life and the direct involvement in them creates high levels of stress. In 2010, Kevin Peter Shea added to the field of study on the stress effect of combat a new research endeavor which focused on the "incidence of stress in the lives of Army officers and its effects on their learning experiences" (Shea, 2010, p.2, 6).
The study was conducted on eleven students at the Army's Command and General Staff College; all students had previously participated in combat over an average period of 23 months and Shea sought to identify the effect of the stress generated from combat within an academic setting.
The methodology employed throughout the study was that of interviews with the eleven candidates, completed with interviews with other army personnel, such as an army psychiatrist, a psychologist or an army chaplain.
The students and former combatants were interviewed to assess first hand their stress levels and the impacts on their lives and within their academic setting. The interviews with the other army personnel helped Shea create a more objective and informed image of the impact of the combat stress onto an academic setting.
Shea found that there were high levels of stress within the academic community of the eleven students, which revealed higher levels of anger, sleeplessness and alcohol consumption. These higher levels of stress were associated with transitions, dual enrollment social and family pressures, as well as a still ongoing stigmata on seeking mental support in army services.
Ultimately, the study was conducted in a qualitative manner in order to assess personal experiences and it does not use quantitative data to allow tests and generalizations. Nevertheless, it adds to the body of already existent literature with interesting findings that raise questions for further research.
Shea, K.P. (2010), "The effects of combat related stress on learning in an academic environment: a qualitative case study," Kansas State University, https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/6683/KevinShea2010.pdf?sequence=1 accessed on March 31, 2015
The topic of substance abuse in the military raises more concern within the society and the academic community, and its increasing levels and the means of tackling it sit at the basis of numerous research efforts. In 2010 for instance, Kevin Peter Shea at the University of Kansas conducted a study to assess the levels of stress as a result of combat within the lives of the soldiers. His findings indicated that the quality of life for these individuals was significantly decreased, with pressures mounting on them. The initial scope of the study was that of assessing the stress levels manifested in army students, namely the stress revealed by soldiers when functioning in an academic and learning environment.
Aside from confirming high stress levels in former combatants, Shea's study revealed secondary findings on the high levels of general stress the soldiers face in every day life, from family pressures to social chores. And in this setting, their level of substance abuse is also higher, pointing to the need to conduct further research in the field, as well as develop new measures to provide better assistance to the persons who suffer from substance abuse (PWSSA).
A similar finding was reached by Jeremiah Schumm and Kathleen Chard in a 2012 study of "Alcohol and stress in the military," which found that stress and substance abuse manifested a powerful link among the military men, but that these were often triggered by a posttraumatic stress disorder or a sexual abuse within the military setting. The authors also point out to other causes which increase the likelihood of stress and substance abuse, such as personal vulnerabilities or self-medication, including the usage of alcohol as a "self-administered medicine" to cope with the stress and trauma in the military.
And in order to help address the problem, the authors propose:
"screening and intervention for alcohol misuse, particularly following exposure to military-related trauma [as well as] integrated treatments that address conjoined alcohol and PTSD problems" (p.406)
An element which increases the severity of the issue of substance abuse is the long battle against it -- sometimes life long -- and the fact that it usually reoccurs in individuals. And aside from the problems created within the lives of the substance abusers, the re-occurrence of the substance abuse takes a severe toll on the trainer. Ong, Lee, Cha and Aronkiasamy (2015, p.87) point out how demoralized the trainers feel when the PWSSA go back to using substances, and how the trainers feel that their support had been insufficient or unsatisfactory, since the counseled individual was unable to follow the program.
In their approach of the issue, Karen Weiss Ogden and Shari Sias (2011) point out that an important dimension in providing quality assistance to persons who suffer from substance abuse is that of educating the trainers so that they are able to provide this quality help. And while they recognize the importance of psychological and scientific background for the trainer, the two authors argue that a difference is made when the mental trainer also possesses the ability to provide support for the spiritual development of the PWSSA; such a capability of the mental trainer is believed by the authors to help provide a more comprehensive counseling for those in need of it.
The authors recognize the merits of the clinical teachings and approach to educating trainers, but argue that a more integrative method would be more efficient. Ogden and Sias (2011) as such created the Integrative Spiritual Development Model (ISDM) which aims to also include spiritual education within the process of forming mental coaches. The scope of the measure is that of creating mentors who are able to focus on the clinical aspects of substance abuse, but also to provide spiritual support to the PWSSA so that they can make a quicker recovery. Their recommendation is based on other literary sources which promoted the idea of including spirituality in the recovery process.
In the same direction of thought, a 2006 article in Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly pointed out that the abuse of substance is a matter so complex that in order to best address it, the counselors have to possess vast knowledge and collaborate with specialists in other disciplines. The unnamed authors of the study then focus on the importance of combining counselor support with a knowledge of mental disorders. In other words, they militate for the provision of personalized care and support, combined with solid information and techniques from psychology and psychiatry; the authors also point out the need and benefits of counselors relying on each other and using peer-support to better assist their substance abusing clients.
Another source which focuses on the quality of the trainer in providing quality help to the persons suffering from substance abuse is a 2014 study by Alexandra Stratyner and Laura Palmer, entitled "Mental health and burnout in substance abuse counselors: factors associated with risk and resiliency." In the study, the Stratyner and Palmer (2014) point out that the counselors of the PWSSA have an inherited higher degree of burnout due to the levels of personal involvement and consumption associated with providing support to substance abusers.
Additionally, another cause for the high rate of burnout in mental trainers is represented by the fact that over half of them enter the job with a background of substance abuse, and this further increases their vulnerability. In this scenario then, in which the counselors of substance abusers reveal high rates of burnout, a new need is identified in that of better training the counselors. The measure would further on support the better provision of services and of more effective help to the people suffering from substance abuse (Stratyner and Palmer, 2014).
Going even deeper with the analysis of counselors in the process of recovery from substance abuse, researchers Shane Koch, Zachery Sneed, Sharon Davis and John Benshoff (2006) seek to identify early on the perceptions of counselors in training towards substance abuse and the mechanisms employed in its treatment. Based on interviews and the assessment of data collected, the researchers identified two important findings:
Training counselors who had past experiences with substance abuse tended to agree more with a moral approach on dealing with substance abuse, rather than clinical and medical approach, whereas
The training counselors who had not encountered in their past any experiences with substance abuse, tended to agree more with a medical approach towards the recovery of those who abused substances, rather than a moral approach.
This finding indicates that the trainers are personally involved and invested in their clients / patients and that they will adopt different stands in helping them, based on their personal experiences with substance abuse. While these findings are notable and interesting, the study of the four authors was conducted on a small…
Shea, K.P. (2010). The effects of combat related stress on learning in an academic environment: A qualitative case study (Order No. 3438652). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (848634793). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/848634793?accountid=25340 The effects of combat-related stress are well-documented. The subject of this dissertation, however, was to examine how residual combat-related stress affected the performance of Army personnel in an academic environment. The study was qualitative in nature and profiled eleven
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