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The many roles of the Portuguese Psychologist

By 1Lt. Franois-Xavier Miller
First published in
SFOR Informer#104, January 10, 2001

Visoko - 2lt. Anna Isabel de Santiago Vaz Cotta Guerra greets her visitors with a benevolent smile. Her profile, her mission and her activities make her a peculiarly different officer: she is actually the Portuguese Battalion psychologist.
Graduating with a doctorate in Psychology from the Instituto Superior Psicologia Aplicada in Lisbon, Portugal, this 27-year old did not want to start a civilian career right after her studies. "I have been in the Army for a year, and will stay for five years at least. I chose to enlist for adventure, to do something different," she stated simply. She followed basic military training, and was then appointed to the Centro Psicologia Aplicata do Exercito (CPAE).
Sent by CPAE with the Portuguese Battalion in Bosnia she was tasked to study and improve the Portuguese soldiers’ morale and wellfare, give individual attention to those who need it, and finally - a most essential contribution to morale - organise recreational activities. Her duty as entertainments officer is, she considers, a clever choice as she is more able to dedicate her time than some of the officers with demanding operational duties. "I sometimes accompany the companies during their deployments. It depends on the mission, and what the company commanding officer thinks of it," she added. The Battalion Psycologist does a six-month tour.
She finds that separation from family is the main source of stress and anxiety. Routine is also a cause even though the Battalion’s role as Operational Reserve is very varied.
Some soldiers come individually to talk with her, a bit like a sister, to whom they can talk about anything they have at heart be they small concerns or big problems.
Listening and talking are mixed in with written tests, the analysis of which enables morale evolution, and can be used to detect and ward off higher stress levels.
As far as casual welfare is concerned, it is done through suggestions to the welfare and recreation committee, in which she participates alongside the Commanding Officer, his Second in Command, the Doctor and the Chaplain.
The organisation of dances, parties, karaoke, movie shows, a photo contest, a chess tournament - with the cooperation of the Bulgarian platoon from Helba - are just a few examples. Christmas gave the chance to set a crib-building contest among the companies, which did not prevent individual participations as well. Moreover, two monthly muscle relaxation sessions, music-based, are very popular.
Despite all this work, 2lt. de Santiago Vaz Cotta Guerra remains modest. "My greatest accomplishment is just to have contributed to improving the well-being of the soldiers." Her mission in BiH will not end when the Battalion relief comes, late January. The Portuguese Headquarters are awaiting her report on the soldiers’ morale evolution during the six-month tour. She will then still have to brief the person who comes to replace her in this important role.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Portugal
SFOR at Work