Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FOCUS Project Teaches Resiliency to Military Families

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Liz Vlahos, Defense Media Activity – Navy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) Project is a military service being highlighted during April as part of the Month of the Military Child.

FOCUS, a service initiated by the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in 2008, teaches practical resiliency skills to service members and their families to better equip them to meet the challenges of deployment and reintegration. Part of this involves teaching the family to communicate and solve problems effectively, and to successfully set goals together and create a shared family story.

"The role of the program is to basically help families identify, look through, and define what [it] is that's causing their stress," said Kirsten Woodward, director of the Family Programs Division at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. "[The] program can then assist with that stress in terms of emotional regulation, defining a shared family narrative, and working through compounding stressors that might come from a deployment, multiple deployments, or high operational tempo issues."

Two of the tools FOCUS uses for teaching these skills are the feeling thermometer and the personal narrative. The feeling thermometer, modeled after the Navy's Operational Stress Continuum, helps family members to discuss their emotional states. Green means "comfortable," yellow means "less comfortable," orange, "uncomfortable," and red, "extremely uncomfortable."

The personal narrative is when each member of the family writes a story about his or her life as part of that family. In a subsequent meeting, each family member shares his or her narrative, with focus on the children, and from that point the family builds a combined narrative. This helps the family to be able to understand different perspectives, clear up misunderstandings and create a stronger family unit.

"When a service member deploys, the whole family is really experiencing that deployment," said Dr. Anna Crane, a family resiliency trainer for the FOCUS Project aboard Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va. "Deployments can be an opportunity for a lot of growth, but [there's] quite a few challenges often associated. FOCUS provides skills so families can stay strong through those multiple deployments. We frequently hear that as a service member, when they're deployed and their family's okay, they're able to do their job even better."

Chief Information Systems Technician Liam Benincasa, assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group 2 Support Activity, Little Creek, Va., is pleased with the shift in the Navy's view of the Sailor's family.

"When I came in eleven years ago, there was the old adage of 'your spouse didn't come in your seabag,'" said Benincasa. "To see now, eleven years later, where they're really understanding that families are just as important to the military as the service member...definitely makes me feel better about being in the military."

To learn more about the FOCUS project, visit

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