The importance of psychology as a constructive contributor to the lives of soldiers was emphasised by Professor Gideon van Dyk of Stellenbosch University.
He delivered his inaugural lecture titled “Military psychology: contributions and challenges in the 21st century in Africa” as a Department of Industrial Psychology professor in the Faculty of Military Science at the university recently.
Van Dyk said the military is a challenging career characterised by trauma, risks, conflicting emotions, high demand on soldiers under fire and complications to make correct decisions without the necessary information.
“Soldiers may be making sacrifices that may lead to death, physical injury and/or amputations or the collapse of mental health with conditions such as anxiety, depression, stress and posttraumatic stress disorder.”
“Military psychology can play a vital role before, during and after the deployment of soldiers.”
Van Dyk sees military psychology as being relevant to the military in Africa as a continent and has made some relevant national and international contributions.
There are challenges for military psychologists to face, he added.
“The nature of war is changing. Military psychologists need to analyse the challenges and characteristics of new wars; translate results into job-fit profiles of soldiers; bring into play factors such as emotional, cultural and electronic intelligence; develop more leaders from the edge and transform training doctrines and organisational culture.
“Military psychologists need to educate soldiers so they have the necessary knowledge and skills to manage trauma. Military psychologists should also develop an approach in a holistic framework to manage and treat trauma.
“Military psychologists need to lead research on combat readiness and gender. They should develop soldiers’ hardiness before operations as well as possible to sustain both combat readiness and mental health.”
Van Dyk highlighted the importance of leadership saying it is a buffer to enhance combat readiness and protect soldiers’ mental health.
He said commanders in the SA National Defence Forces should manage soldiers properly to ensure they spend sufficient time in their units and with their families.
Van Dyk sees there is a need in South Africa and Africa for a centre specialising in military psychology, military ethics and military leadership.