Assessing Psychological Suitability for High-Risk Military Jobs

The psychological requirements for extreme military service are intense. As a candidate, you'll be put through a gauntlet of tests to see if you have what it takes mentally to handle high-risk operations. The assessors will probe your motivations, resilience, decision-making abilities, and more. They want to know that when the going gets tough, you have the mental toughness to push through. If you harbor any doubts about your ability to remain calm under extreme duress, follow orders promptly and make quick judgments in ambiguous, high-pressure situations.

Evaluating Mental Toughness and Resilience

You need to thoroughly evaluate certain psychological traits to determine if someone has the mental toughness for extreme military roles.


Are they able to cooperate with others and function as part of a highly interdependent team? Strong team players build camaraderie, share information openly, and can accept feedback and criticism. They put the team's goals and priorities over their own interests.

Emotional Regulation

Can they manage their emotions and impulses even in chaotic or upsetting circumstances? Emotionally regulated individuals stay calm and focused rather than reacting irrationally or lashing out. They have a high tolerance for distress and can compartmentalize emotions.


Do they have the drive and motivation to push through physically and mentally taxing training? Determined candidates will not give up easily in the face of obstacles or setbacks. They show strong self-discipline and commitment to their goals.


Can they cope with traumatic events and high-stress situations? Resilient individuals are able to adapt to adversity and recover quickly from difficult experiences. Look for a history of overcoming hardships and facing challenges head-on.


Are they able to think logically and creatively and solve complex problems on the fly? Effective problem-solving involves assessing situations objectively, exploring options, and making quick decisions under pressure. Candidates should demonstrate strong critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Assessing Decision-Making Under Pressure

To determine if a candidate can make effective decisions under extreme pressure, you need to assess their ability to think clearly in high-stress situations. Some key things to evaluate include −

  • How they react to unexpected events. Do they stay calm and composed or become easily rattled? Candidates who can remain level-headed during surprises and crises will perform better in high-risk roles.

  • Their problem-solving skills Look for individuals who can logically work through issues, evaluate options, and find solutions even when stressed or

  • facing tight deadlines. Strong problem-solvers will thrive in fast-paced, demanding environments.

  • How quickly they can assess situations. In dangerous operations, rapidly taking in and understanding information is critical. Test if candidates can quickly grasp the details of a complex situation, determine possible risks or threats, and figure out appropriate responses.

  • Their decision-making process See if they can explain the rationale behind their choices and if they consider possible consequences or impacts. Look for evidence of balancing risks and rewards to make the best choice possible given the circumstances.

  • How they handle uncertainty or missing information. High-risk roles often involve making choices with limited or ambiguous information. Candidates who show sound judgement and the ability to make reasonable assumptions or extrapolations from the available data will perform better in these situations.

Non-emergent Evaluations

Non-emergent assessments are ones in which there is no immediate worry for the subject's safety or the safety of others. People who fall under this category could struggle with learning disabilities, adjustment issues, depression, or anxiety disorders, to mention a few. Emergent evaluations involve assessments where there are worries about suicide and/or homicide. Although it is frequently the case that the supervisors and/or peers of the service member serve as the basis for concern, it is crucial to note that only the individual's commander (Army and Air Force) or commanding officer (Navy and Marine Corps) has the authority to request a CDE.

Another constant is the requirement that the mental health professionals conducting the fitness-for-duty assessment hold doctoral degrees in psychology, psychiatry, or social work. We will now discuss key points in the nonemergent evaluation of active-duty personnel after these conditions have been established.

Measuring Risk-Taking Propensity

Several assessments can be used to determine if a candidate has the necessary risk-taking propensity for high-risk military jobs


Structured interviews with psychologists or assessors trained in risk assessment can also provide valuable insight. Open-ended questions about the candidate’s experiences, behaviours, thoughts, and feelings related to risk-taking situations allow interviewers to evaluate verbal and non-verbal cues that may indicate their propensity for risk. Interviews also create an opportunity for follow-up questions to clarify responses and probe for more details.

Surveys and Questionnaires

Self-reported surveys and questionnaires are commonly used to measure risk- taking tendencies. Items may ask about the types of activities the candidate engages in during free time, how much they enjoy thrill-seeking behaviours, and their comfort with uncertainty or danger.

Behavioural Assessments

Behavioural assessments present the candidate with hypothetical risk-taking scenarios to see how they would respond. For example, a scenario may describe a dangerous but time-sensitive mission and ask what course of action the candidate would take. Their choices and reasoning can reveal their willingness to take calculated risks when necessary.

Biometric Measures

Biometric measures provide objective data on a candidate’s physiological responses to risk and uncertainty. Things like heart rate variability, skin conductivity, and EEG readings are monitored during risk-taking simulations or tasks.

Screening for Post-Traumatic Stress Vulnerability

Screening for vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is crucial when assessing candidates for high-risk military roles. PTSD can be debilitating and negatively impact job performance, team dynamics, and long-term well- being. Look for both risk and resilience factors in a candidate’s background and psychological makeup.

Family Mental Health History

A family history of anxiety, depression, or PTSD is a risk factor and may indicate a genetic predisposition. Ask about any mental health issues among close relatives like parents, siblings, and grandparents. While a risk factor, family history alone should not disqualify a candidate. Many people with a family history of mental illness do not develop issues themselves.

Trauma History

Exposure to traumatic events in childhood like abuse, neglect, violence, or the loss of a loved one can increase the risk of PTSD from traumatic events in adulthood. Discuss a candidate’s trauma history to determine their level of risk. Some key questions include:

  • Did you experience any traumatic or distressing events as a child?

  • How did these events impact you at the time?

  • Do you feel you have fully processed these events emotionally?

Coping Skills and Resilience

Candidates with strong coping skills and resilience in the face of stress or trauma are less prone to PTSD. Look for:

  • Optimism

  • Problem-solving

  • Social support

  • Adaptability

  • Purpose


The key things to consider when evaluating someone’s mental fitness for an elite military role It’s not an easy process, but following best practises and assessing the whole person can help identify those rare individuals with the right combination of skills, traits, and temperament to succeed in high-risk, high- stress positions.

At the end of the day, the goal is to find people who won’t just survive but thrive in challenging circumstances, all while accomplishing the mission and safeguarding lives.

Updated on: 27-Oct-2023


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