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Health Series: Research Spotlight

Mindfulness in the Military: Improving mental fitness in the UK Armed Forces using next generation team mindfulness training

A three-year study investigated if, and how, mindfulness could be leveraged for strategic benefits; and if team-based mindfulness training could help individuals and teams in defence improve mental fitness and change-readiness.

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

The Institute of Employment Studies (IES) in conjunction with Cranfield University was pleased to announce the launch of a new practitioner report this month: Mindfulness in the Military.

The report, a culmination of a three-year study, was commissioned by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

It investigated if, and how, mindfulness could be leveraged for strategic benefits; and if team-based mindfulness training could help individuals and teams in defence improve mental fitness and change-readiness.

Dr Alison Carter, Principal Research Fellow at IES said: “Being change ready in a complex and uncertain scenario means being resilient, agile and constantly learning - all qualities that mindfulness can actively encourage in an individual but more significantly in teams.”

The study’s findings suggest that the intended culture change towards individuals and entire teams managing stressful challenges well may be feasible through a new type of team-focused mindfulness training; but not through more conventional mindfulness programmes focused on individuals learning to meditate.

Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock, previously of Cranfield University and now Senior Lecturer at City, University of London, explained that:

mental resilience depends much more on social factors than we initially thought, and mindfulness as a team sport is more than people meditating together; it’s about a mind-set shift from a me-focus to a we-focus. 

Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock presenting findings from the study at City, University of London

The researchers recommend that the military should consider mindfulness as a team activity, training groups to systematically anticipate and respond together to stressful situations by learning to create collaborative solutions to all aspects of demanding challenges, intellectual as well as emotional.

It was also recommended that in organisational cultures such as in the military with a strong can-do attitude where self-sacrifice and mental toughness are highly prized values, we may need to be wary of mandating mindfulness meditation mindlessly, partly because of its self-help connotations.

In addition, mindfulness teachers without formal mental health training may do more harm than good in these contexts, especially if they focus on training individuals to engage in prolonged periods of quiet meditation, common in more traditional, individual-focused mindfulness programmes such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This is because sitting in silence for 20 minutes or longer may unearth latent trauma in unexpected ways and military populations might be particularly vulnerable in this regard.

The Mindfulness in the Military report can be downloaded free of charge from the IES website.

Dr Tobias Mortlock is also co-director, along with Dr Trudi Edginton, of the new Centre for Excellence in Mindfulness Research (CEMR) at City, University of London.

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