Physicians Update

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FOCUS Project FOCUS Attention on Emotional Needs of Military Families STORY HIGHLIGHTS FOCUS was created to meet the unique psychological health needs of military families facing the prospect of lengthy multiple deployments. Since its inception, FOCUS has touched the lives of more than 400,000 military-family members through evidence-informed resiliency training. Preliminary studies on the effects of FOCUS on military families have found improvements in family communication and functioning, reduced anxiety and depression in adults, and less emotional distress in children. In the 12 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, tens of thousands of families have experienced a parent being deployed multiple times. Research suggests that such repeated separations amid fears about combat risk increases the likelihood of anxiety and other emotional difficulties in children, as well as contributing to psychological distress in the parent left behind. And the challenges don’t end with the return of the service member, who often struggles to reintegrate while dealing with injuries or significant combat stress reactions. In 2006, UCLA psychiatrist Patricia Lester, MD, and colleagues at UCLA and Harvard created FOCUS — Families Overcoming Under Stress — to help address the needs of these families. Since then, the UCLA-led program, of which Dr. Lester is director, has touched the lives of more than 400,000 military-family members through evidence-informed resiliency training. UCLA provides the FOCUS program to 24 military installations under contract with the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. In addition, the UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center provides FOCUS services to veteran Patricia Lester, MD UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-888 (1-800-825-2888) families both locally and nationally, including in partnership with UCLA’s Operation Mend. What was the perceived need when you were approached by military mental-health professionals about creating such a program? The military providers who were seeing these families were facing unique circumstances. For example, parents were unprepared to talk with their children about catastrophic injuries, and it was becoming apparent that the wars we were engaged in were going to mean an extended period of combat with repeated deployments. The psychological-health programming in place at that time was geared more for peacetime circumstances. There was not enough known about how to assist members of military families in coping with separations involving combat, and parents returning with post-traumatic stress and physical injuries. So with feedback from military providers and family members, we adapted resiliency-promoting interventions our group had developed and tested for families facing other types of adversity, customizing FOCUS to the specific circumstances of military families.