A new study published in the Journal of Frontiers in Psychology looked at the way in which student veterans view positive changes in emotional resilience post intervention.
“In this study, we put to test a new intervention that aims to promote affective resilience in student veterans by helping them develop emotion regulation skills that work for them,” Yifan Hu, a graduate student who conducted the study told us. “By comparing this novel, computer-based approach of training against a traditional therapeutic approach, we hoped to demonstrate new therapeutic possibilities by translating lab-validated research findings into practical interventions.”
Researchers had a theory as to what the results would be. The emotional regulation skills that this intervention was designed to train, cognitive reappraisal and focused attention, have received extensive empirical research that has demonstrated its immediate effectiveness.
“Particularly in our own lab, we have been investigating these emotion regulation skills using a combination of behavioral and neuroimaging techniques, so we knew and expected that these skills would produce beneficial effects in the short term,” Hu told us. “However, what we wanted to also show was that when trained appropriately, these benefits were not limited to the lab setting — they could produce real-world impacts as well.”
Researchers chose this topic because the civilian world poses a multitude of personal, social, and financial challenges for veterans who come back home and choose to pursue higher education. Available support to help with their successful readjustment is limited due to a lack of evidence-based studies that specifically address their needs.
Veterans have been able to draw on financial education assistance since the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. Over 650,000 veterans used military benefits to pursue higher education in 2018 and 75 per cent of student veterans were enrolled as full-time students. Over half of veterans were enrolled in undergraduate programs in 2017. Most student veterans were between the ages of 24 and 40. Twenty seven per cent of student veterans majored in business in 2018, 14 per cent in STEM programs, 10 per cent in health professions, and in 2019, the average GPA of student veterans was 3.39.
“As researchers of emotion regulation, we wanted to apply what we learned from lab-based research to fill in this gap, and we were in the best position to do so when we teamed up with clinical collaborators who specialized in veteran care,” Hu told us.
The study was designed to have the format of a randomized clinical trial. Over a period of about six weeks, researchers ran a computerized, individualized intervention alongside a group therapeutic intervention in the traditional format.
Researchers collected assessments of psychological factors, cognitive abilities, as well as resting state fMRI, a measure to allow them to examine the functional brain at rest, both before and after the interventions in both groups. Comparing the post to pre-assessments, they obtained evidence that both approaches benefited the participants, but above and beyond that, the novel approach particularly helped improve their general self-efficacy (one’s overall belief in their ability to deal with different types of situations).
“Since our intervention was rooted in our prior research on the effectiveness of emotion regulation skills, we were not too surprised with the results,” Hu told us. “But we were pleasantly surprised to see evidence of the successful translation of our prior research findings to help people in real life!”
Hu believes the team’s study demonstrates the usefulness of a promising combination of emotion regulation tools in achieving the ultimate goal of promoting affective resilience in the general public by capitalizing on evidence-based research.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com