“Forward psychiatry” in the military: Its origins and effectiveness

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Abstract

“Forward psychiatry” was devised in World War I for the treatment of shell shock and today is the standard intervention for combat stress reaction. It relied on three principles: proximity to battle, immediacy, and expectation of recovery, subsequently given the acronym “PIE”. Both US and UK forces belatedly reintroduced PIE methods during World War II to return servicemen to active duty and made confident claims for its efficacy. Advanced treatment units also appeared to have minimized psychiatric battle casualties during Korean and Vietnamese Wars. Evaluations of its use by Israeli forces in the Lebanon conflict showed higher return-to-duty rates than at base hospitals. A reexamination of these examples suggests that reported outcomes tended to exaggerate its effectiveness both as a treatment for acute stress reaction and as a prophylaxis for chronic disorders such as PTSD. It remains uncertain who is being served by the intervention: whether it is the individual soldier or the needs of the military.

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