What Does Resilience Look Like?

As a counsellor or other mental health professional, of course you help your clients deal with difficult life events when they come to your therapy rooms. But how do you boost their capacity to prevail over adversity when they are not with you?

Most of the time when mental health professionals talk about resilience, they are referring to psychological hardiness, primarily, and physical toughness secondarily. Yet the term “resilience” was first used in the physical sciences to describe the behaviour of a spring (Plodinec, 2009). In fact, the word “resilience” is derived from the Latin resalire, to spring back. In the 1970s and 1980s, the term began to be co-opted by ecological and psychological communities.

The ecologists used it to describe ecosystems that continued to function more or less the same in spite of adversity (Holling, 1973), and the psychologists noted that groups not changing their behaviour in spite of adversity were resilient ones (Masten, 1990). The engineering community also got in on the act, referring to physical infrastructure as being resilient if it was able to absorb and recover from a hazardous event (Plodinec, 2009).

The Merriam Webster dictionary captures this broader sense of the word, defining resilience as:

“capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture

tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Merriam Webster)

The Free Dictionary adds that resilient means “capable of returning to an original shape or position, as after having been compressed” (Farlex, Inc., 2012).

Positive psychologists prefer to see resilience as going beyond a return to how someone or something was before the stress, asserting that we can have post-traumatic growth as much as stress (Seligman, 2011). Similarly, the Community and Regional Resilience Institute has expanded expectations for a resilient community, declaring that it is the capability to:

“. . . anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution, and growth in the face of turbulent change” (Plodinec, 2009).

Given these views, we propose a working definition of psychological resilience – the type we are examining on this article – as the ability of a person to deal with adversity without succumbing to psychological breakdown (such as mental illness or committing acts of self-harm) or resorting to antisocial acts. The truly resilient person manages to live with a modicum of peace, or even joy, despite difficult circumstances. While recent research has identified a genetic component to resilience, it is by no means the major player in the quest to prevail over hard times. Let us look, rather, at some of the responses to adversity – skills, really – that assist a person’s ability to bounce back.

The resilience skills

Probably all of us are at least a little resilient, and just as probably, no single person displays all possible hardiness responses to adversity in their lives. Carbonatto (2009) interviewed people in New Zealand and Australia who had been nominated by friends, family, or others as “resilient”. Her book tells their stories and analyses the ways in which each “hero” in the book showed resilience. At the front of each story/chapter, Carbonatto lists the main resilience skills she found the person to be using to get through their tough times.

While each person’s resilience profile was unique, there were skills that came up over and over again. Moreover, they tended to group themselves into several chief categories. Continuing the work, Carbonatto has proposed a schema of five resilience styles, each of which is a cluster of related get-through skills (forthcoming).

Let us borrow Carbonatto’s categories, examining what sorts of skills may be involved with each one. The five skills categories are: optimism, will, social support, practicality, and purpose.

Optimism Skills

Do you tend to look on the bright side of things? More importantly for your clinical work: do your clients? It used to be deemed generally irrelevant whether someone tended to see the glass “half-full” or “half-empty”, but the work of Martin Seligman in recent decades has shown that optimists have an advantage in the game of surviving and thriving.

Learned helplessness and optimistic explanatory style

Acknowledging that he is now called the “father of positive psychology”, Martin Seligman nevertheless claims that he came to an understanding about how vital optimism is for resilience as a result of long years of research into failure. His experiments, now part of the phenomenon known as learned helplessness, are classic and have been replicated many times. Basically, they involved (at different times) three groups of beings: dogs, rats, and later human beings, being subjected to either shocks (for the animals) or unpleasant experiences, such as noise, for the human subjects. In each case, the experiments would consist in three groups of subjects.

Group One, the first experimental group, would be subjected to the shock or noise. This first group would have a way of turning off the shock or noise, which all the subjects successfully learned to do. The second experimental group was called the “yoked” group, because their outcomes were “yoked” to those of the first experimental group. That is, the second group experienced shock/noise when the first group did, but, at Phase One of the studies, did not have a way to turn it off. The third group was the “control group”, which experienced no shock or noise.

The second phase of experimentation involved administering shock or noise once again to the two experimental groups. As in the first phase, the Group One subjects learned to turn it off. The third group was never exposed to shock or noise, so did not change at all. But the second, “yoked” group underwent an interesting phenomenon. In all types of subjects – dogs, rats, and human beings – most of the second group, when given the (easy) possibility of turning off the unpleasant experience (noise or shock), failed to learn to do so, often just cowering in the corner of the pen (say, for dogs), even though they could easily learn to avert the experience. The second group experienced what came to be called learned helplessness. That is, in the first phase, they had learned that they had no control and could not achieve any effect no matter what they did, and so in the second phase – when they could get out of the shock/noise – they made no attempt to do so.

Results from similar studies over the years always showed these patterns, but there was one variation Seligman and others observed which ultimately gave them the key to so-called “positive psychology”. That is that, no matter what was done to them, about one-third of the second, “yoked” group, refused to learn to become helpless. No matter what they were exposed to, they continued to believe that they had some control, that they could achieve some effect, or that there was a way out of the aversive experience (Seligman, 2011; Carbonatto, 2009).

Over the years, Seligman and colleagues began to look more deeply into how this one-third of “yoked” subjects was thinking in relation to both the experimental circumstances and life in general. In one set of experiments, the yoked group was given a task which, no matter how it was approached, could not be solved. After the period of attempting the task, the group were interviewed about their effort and their “failure”. Most of the subjects were in a slightly depressed mood.

The subjects who were not – those who refused to learn helplessness – were consistent in their explanations, offering a number of attributions for the “failure”, such as “It must have been a temporary glitch”, “It didn’t work today, but I could probably do it tomorrow,” “Other parts of my life are going ok” and so on. None of them attributed their inability to solve the task to their own incompetence or dumbness (Seligman, 1992, pp 19-28)! After analysing many hours of their taped responses, Seligman concluded that the way to “immunise” people against learned helplessness, against depression and anxiety, and against giving up after failure was by teaching them to think like these optimists. What has come to be called “optimistic explanatory style” (Seligman, 1992; 2011) comes down to three crucial dimensions:

Permanence: whether we believe that a given event will go on for a long time or not. Pessimists believe that “bad” events will go on for a long time, whereas optimists believe just the opposite, that the tough stuff is about to end. For example, an optimist who lost her job would tend to believe that she could replace it fairly readily.

Pervasive: how specific or universal the event is: in other words, how much of our lives it pervades. Pessimists believe that the difficult happening will spread from one area of life to others, whereas optimists are quick to point out that a given difficult circumstance is limited in scope. The optimist, for example, may have lost her job, but she will observe that she still has excellent health and supportive relationships; in other words, she will say, the “bad news” is confined to the work arena, and does not affect other aspects of life.

Personalised: Whether it is we or others who get the blame (for the “bad” stuff that happens), or the credit (for the achievements). Optimists consistently attribute failures to causes outside themselves (like Seligman’s subjects, who said that the task could not be completed because of a “glitch” or something else, but not because they were incompetent to do it). Pessimists, conversely, blame themselves, even when they should not. The job-losing optimist might, for instance, claim that she had performed well in her role, but that she was let go because the organisation was going through a downturn (Seligman, 1992).

How optimistic do you perceive your clients to be? The good news is that, even if they are not natural optimists, they can come to embrace learned optimism. You can help them, by challenging places in their thinking where they succumb to negative thinking (such as any time they “awfulise” about something being permanent, ruining their “whole life”, or being “my entire fault”). There are some other optimism skills to employ as well.

Social comparison thinking

In addition to helping your clients re-frame their thoughts to see “bad” events as temporary, limited, and not their fault (when events are out of their control), you can encourage them to engage in social comparison thinking. As an optimism skill, this is the habit of making positive comparisons with similar others. Let us explain that a bit. Social comparison thinking can enhance or diminish resilience according to how it is used. If your client, say, engages in comparing herself with others, but those others constitute an unfair reference group, then she may be causing herself to feel less satisfied with her own life, and thus be less resilient. An example would be the person who wants to learn French and enrols in French language class, but is hard of hearing. It would be unfair to compare her performance in conversational skills at the end of the class with those students who had normal hearing, some of whom may have even had the advantage of living or travelling in France!

Conversely, work by Cash (1983) has shown that social comparison thinking, applied as an optimism skill, involves finding a favourable reference group and comparing oneself with that. For instance, a new real estate sales person, who may be working part time at a paid job while he builds up his real estate contacts, would not be engaging optimist skills, nor thinking resiliently, if he insisted on comparing his sales record for the year with those of more seasoned real estate agents, who work full time and may have been doing the job for many years. He would be much more valid to compare himself to other new agents, especially those working part-time.

Silver-lining thinking: Avoid “focusing illusions”

The optimism skill of silver-lining thinking goes hand in hand with avoiding what researchers have called “focusing illusions” (Schkade and Kahneman, 1987). It is about acknowledging the dark clouds (say, impending divorce or diagnosis of an incurable condition), but refusing to give an inappropriate amount of attention (focus) to certain feared aspects of the “cloud”, concentrating instead on the silver lining in the clouds: some aspects of the situation that may be positive, despite the overall tough circumstance.

An example of this occurred in the late 1980s, when getting AIDS was pretty much a death sentence. On an “AIDS Road Show” set up to promote safe sex, one of the AIDS patients participating was asked how he was managing to live so cheerfully and with such obvious happiness, given his condition. “Oh,” he said, “that’s easy. I – and many others with AIDS – know that our time may be limited, so we just let the rubbish go by.” That is, he saw the dark cloud – the spectre of death hanging over him – and decided not to focus on his probable shortened lifespan, looking instead to the quality of his relationships and the enjoyable and meaningful things he could do with his time. He resiliently re-framed, “I’m probably going to die before too long” to “I have a wonderful quality of life now”, thus avoiding the focusing illusion that all of life now must be held ransom to (focused on) early death.

Take advantage of opportunities

The skill of seeing, and then taking up, opportunities, is a response which, to be fair, crosses over into resilience skills other than strictly optimism ones. Wherever in a schema it occurs, the act of attempting to better one’s position is an expression of trust that a better future exists, and that it can be attained: in other words, an optimistic response. History is rife with people who, in the face of some unfortunate experience, nevertheless maximised it by a “sideways” response which utilised what resources were available in the moment. Julio Iglesias once told an interviewer making a documentary film about him that his singing career may not even have gotten off the ground were it not for having broken his leg as a teenager. Lying there in traction in hospital, Julio could not move much, let alone get back on the playing field to do the football he was so keen to play. Someone brought him a guitar to fool around with and, as they say, the rest is history; Julio took full advantage of the months on his back to begin an endeavour that would define his life.

The power of optimism

Why should we strive – or encourage our clients to strive – for optimism? Seligman has noted that there are “literally hundreds of studies” which show that pessimists get discouraged and give up more easily, while optimists’ performance at work and in academic and sporting arenas tends to exceed predictions made for them. They generally enjoy excellent health, the capacity to age well and even increased longevity (Seligman, 1992, p 5).

Will Skills

There are few stories in the world literature where the hero prevails merely by curling up in a corner until the drama is all over. The ability to engage one’s will appropriately may be the cornerstone of the resilient response. Without one’s will involved, even the brightest optimistic thought degrades into mere “wishful thinking”; opportunities slip away, barely noticed, their escape bedevilling the hero throughout most of the action.

Suffice it to say here that we can conceive of will as having at least two parts: personal will and transpersonal will. Personal will can further be divided into strong will (the energy, intensity, or “fire in the belly” to accomplish something, and also the aspect of will that comes to mind for most people when they think about will), skilful will (the most efficient and effective means of accomplishing something as opposed to the most obvious or direct path), and good will (a sense of orienting toward the general good in one’s plans, although good will should include consideration of oneself as well).

Assagioli, who developed this schema for examining will, believed that all three aspects needed to be present generally in order to achieve success at an endeavour, and that uniting these with love would activate transpersonal will (Assagioli, 1973). Most resilience skills are based, either directly or indirectly, on the capacity to engage will. We look at some of the more direct ones.

Never give up hope

All of us can be grateful for the persistence (a quality of strong will) on the part of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Edison is said to have tried about 2000 substances before having success with carbon wire in his electric light bulb (Assagioli, 1973). It was surely a resilient person who came up with the saying that the impossible only takes a little longer. Refusing to give up hope that things will turn out alright – even amid crushing defeat – is the hallmark of a person whose will has been activated (and they are probably also an optimist).

Bibliotherapy may not be appropriate for all presenting issues of clients. But for those who would seem to give up too easily, you may be able to encourage clients to “hang in there” by referring them to stories of those who pulled off a seeming miracle by doing so. One such story that raced around the world several years ago was that of Rob Hewitt, the New Zealand navy diver that got separated from his diving buddies on an ocean dive and ended up treading water for over three days before being rescued. In his account of his experience (2007), Hewitt talks about how he maintained the hope of being rescued in the mornings simply because he had survived the nights in the ocean. He deliberately refused to look at the decaying skin underneath his wetsuit because he knew that doing so would undermine his fragile hold on hope.

When he saw planes passing by overhead, Hewitt hoped that one set of the sixty or seventy pairs of eyes on the plane would see a glint in the ocean (perhaps his diving knife or other equipment flashing in the sun?), remember that a diver had gone missing in the area, and alert the authorities upon landing. Hewitt’s hopeful line of thinking went something like, “I figured that the plane ride would take an hour, it would take them up to an hour to get home, they would then wait until the news was on, and then make the call, and it would take the rescue team a little while to get to me: altogether about four hours. So every time I would see a plane fly over, I would think to myself, ‘Okay, I’m going to be rescued in four hours. Can I hang on four hours? Yes, I can do four more hours’” (Carbonatto, 2009, p36). Hewitt’s essential hopefulness is underscored when one hears that, upon rescue, he was medically declared to be 66 per cent saltwater; at 72 per cent, organs begin to shut down. This statistic told all that Hewitt, upon rescue, was only a few minutes from death, yet he remained hopeful throughout the ordeal (Carbonatto, 2009).

Know when to surrender

Paradoxically, although there is much resilience in the capacity to remain ever-hopeful, genuine resilience also demands that we know when to surrender. Let us be clear here; surrendering is not the same as “giving up”, which is about loss of hope, a will disengaged, a spirit crushed. Surrender, rather, is a willed act, one which a person undertakes precisely because acknowledging human limitation and lack of control in a situation offers the greatest opportunity to prevail, to survive. Hewitt had a moment of “giving up”. He lost hope and put his face into the water, but just when he was gasping for breath, he realised that he had much to live for. He took his face out of the water, and decided to live.

Some hours later, he considered the options open for survival. He had observed that every time he really engaged his will by trying to swim towards land, the currents pushed him back. The danger of trying to “swim for it” was that he might exhaust himself in the effort and drown. The converse danger, of just continuing to bob up and down and let the currents carry him, was that he did not know where they would take him. Hewitt ultimately decided that his best bet was to ride the waves and go along with whatever was happening (often, swells and storms). He acknowledged that the outcome was out of his hands. He came to be at peace, feeling balanced (Carbonatto, 2009). While willing life, he surrendered. Crucially for the study of resilience, both his active will engagement – such as trying to swim for shore – and his surrender were acts of will undertaken for the purpose of survival.

What tendency do you observe in your clients: to actively engage their will, or to surrender? How do they know which is more appropriate in the context of their ultimate triumph over the difficult situation? If it is surrender, is it genuine surrender (that is, a willed act), or do you sense that they are just giving up?

The skills of maintaining hope and knowing when to surrender have a large component of strong will (backed up by skilful will) in them. Responses that rely largely on skilful will are those of (1) the mind power skills and (2) the skills of expressing frustration through creative channels.

Mind power skills as resilience-boosters

If you want to help grow your clients’ hardiness, a good place to work from is the mind power skills. Let us review the connection between mind power and resilience. Nothing comes into being on Planet Earth without there being a blueprint in the ether. Houses under construction follow an official paper blueprint; a tailor sewing a dress follows a pattern of what the finished dress is to look like, and company restructurings take place after elaborate consultation and planning to decide on how the ultimate organisational chart should look. We bring into reality what we are able to conceive; we conceive that which we can visualise, feel, or “hear” in our minds. We can create much more strongly in our minds – giving our subconscious the “command” to gather up the energy of manifestation in the physical world – if we have developed our will sufficiently for the unconscious parts of ourselves to hear the command (Kehoe, 1987; Assagioli, 1973).

Social Support Development Skills

The saying that “no man is an island” seems not truer anywhere than in the realm of resilience. Happiness author and business coach Alvah Parker lists ten traits of resilient, happy people. In the very first one she notes that resilient people…

“are strong people who realize the importance of having a good social support system and are able to surround themselves with supportive friends and family” (Parker, 2012).

Similarly, organisational adviser/facilitator David Liddell, addressing managers, names six traits of resilience in organisational leaders, among which is:

“Team Support: Although you are a strong individual, you know the value of social support and are able to surround yourself with supportive colleagues and strong leaders” (Liddell, 2012).

So, we ask, what are the skills a person needs to develop good social support networks? We look at developing relational capacity and balancing dependence and independence.

Developing relational capacity

Writing about the most resilience-requiring experience – the trauma of abuse – Herman (1992) remarks that the core experiences of psychological trauma are those of disempowerment and disconnection from others; the recovery, therefore, is based on empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections. Recovery, she insists, can only take place in relationship, not in isolation. In renewing connections with people, survivors of abuse or trauma re-create the psychological faculties that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These include the basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.

As a therapist/guide, you may well wish to visit this cluster of resilience skills with your client, whether or not the person’s history is one of abuse. Through questions, discussions, and keen listening, you may be able to find out much about how they do relationship, and how effective they are at garnering social support when they need it:

  • Whom does the client trust? How does s/he decide whether to trust someone or not? In which groups (including such as focus groups, group counselling, or group process groups) might the person be generally safe, and thus able to learn more about safety through the interactions?
  • How autonomous is the person? How capable is the client of going into dependent mode, asking for help when they need it? This relates to the skill of balancing dependence and independence (see below)
  • How capable is the person of taking the initiative when that would be useful (as opposed to the person merely being reactive)?
  • How much is the client in touch with their innate capacity, their special places of competence?
  • What is the client’s sense of identity? How does s/he see him/herself? How much does the person still identify as a victim (if that is their history)? How much might you as counsellor be drawn into the client’s working-out of trauma by transference to you (identification of you as perpetrator)? How able is the client to identify him/herself as a member of a family, a community, a nation? How well-developed are the person’s networking skills?
  • What is the client’s capacity for intimacy?

Balance dependence and independence

In most Western countries people are trained from an early age to be independent, and dependence gets very bad press. Yet dependence – the ability to ask for help, comfort, or solace – softens a world that can seem harsh and unrelenting. It is hard to imagine a society in which citizens were proscribed from asking one another for help, so cold and unemotional it would surely be.

All of the 15 parties (individuals and a few couples) studied by Carbonatto (2009) remarked that they would not have gotten through their adversity had it not been for their networks of support, whether those were mainly at family, community, national, or international level. Most of them commented in some way that their ability to prevail over the tough time had been due in part to their ability to go into either mode – that of independence or that of dependence – as appropriate. Both are needed for wholeness. Mostly survivors seem to work their will as well as they can, initiating actions that seem logical to get themselves out of the mess, but then being unapologetic about – and unafraid to – ask for help when they have exhausted their own resources.

Both in the Canberra fires of January, 2003, and “Black Saturday”, the bushfires of February, 2009 near Melbourne, lives were lost (4 and 210, respectively). Around 2700 homes were destroyed; thousands of people were sheltered in gyms and community shelters, with many more holed up with family members (Camilleri et al, 2007). In both fires, the communities rallied around, with businesses donating goods such as mattresses and toys. Community organisations sprang up to help people get through, and to help prevent fires in future (Carbonatto, 2009).

Generally those who had well-developed support networks coped better. Social researchers talk about the “social capital” realised from strengthening some forms of community networks (Healy, 2004). New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs defines this capital as “the stock of goodwill and trust built up when people voluntarily participate and cooperate for mutual benefit” (New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, 1999, p6).

The point for resilience is that, by the time the relationship is needed, it is too late to develop it. How would your client assess his/her relationships at present? How about his or her networks of support in the community?

Practical Resilience Skills

While this article is focused on emotional resilience, few would argue that adequate preparation in the physical-material world will help minimise loss and thus the concomitant need for emotional adjustment to loss. If in your helping role you are coaching someone toward greater resilience, please do not dismiss this section as irrelevant. At the very least, it is important to recognise the types of preparation that could make the difference between merely surviving a tough time and being able to thrive through it. As the saying goes, “The time to prepare for adversity is now, before it hits.”

The Skills of Purpose

There is a little secret we should disclose. When people show resilience using the skills of purpose, they are actually using will skills. In Assagioli’s stages of the willed act (1973), the first stage is that of having a clear intention: a purpose. The purpose is derived from that which has meaning for an individual, and that is generated from the person’s values. We come to know what values we embrace through being forged in the fire of life. We have a difficult time which offers two stark choices; which will we choose? We find ourselves in an unenviable, or even unpalatable, position, and working out what to do to get out of it involves our will, working in conjunction with our purpose and, if we are living authentically, reflecting our values. Living on purpose is thus living will-fully.

We separate out these “purpose” skills for our current discussion because it is as inspiring as it is instructive to see how people have managed to elevate pain to suffering through the noble act of using pain to achieve a purpose wrought for the common good. That is, when hard times come our way, how can we use (and how have the heroes of our lives used) that Tough Time to create a meaning-filled purpose whose achievement serves many? Allusions to the importance of purpose were almost without exception present in the subjects studied by Carbonatto (2009), who variously referred to it as “Creating a purpose larger than myself”, “Going beyond my pain to gain meaning”, and “Using my hurt to work for the common good”. They are all versions of the same intention to heal oneself while creating greater good. We trace how it comes about.

Have you ever been through an experience that was psychologically (and perhaps also physically) painful in the extreme: something that really challenged your trust in life, your ability to hang in there and keep surviving? As you accepted that this was your lot and you were not going to get out of it, what feelings were you in touch with as you contemplated that other human beings may suffer your same fate? Almost unanimously, people who have been through a crushing but life-defining experience observe in themselves a strong desire to prevent others in similar circumstances from going through the same privation, pain, and horror that they experienced.

Mothers who lost a child due to someone’s drunk driving formed MADD, Mothers against Drunk Driving, with SADD (Students against Drunk Driving) soon following. Women’s refuge centres are full of female helpers who have been mistreated or abused and who do not want any other woman to go through what they did. Cancer patients join support groups to get help during the journey through cancer, but then remain in the groups after their cancer is in remission in order to help those who are newly diagnosed. Similarly in Alcoholics Anonymous: a person who has been in recovery successfully for some time agrees to “sponsor” a person in the first phases of recovery from alcohol abuse.

There is abundant literature to support the notion that connection with purpose is important for resilience. Seligman (2011), after years of research into failure, resilience, and well-being, was asked by the United States Army what positive psychology had to say about soldiers’ problems. Seligman responded that response to trauma was “normally distributed”: that is, after experiencing extreme adversity, some soldiers would fall apart (be diagnosed with PTSD, or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).

Some soldiers would react with anxiety and depression and be upset, but within a month they would be back to normal (Seligman called that “resilient”). Still others, he said, would undergo extreme stress or adversity and experience growth (as opposed to stress disorder) as a result. The army, continued Seligman, could shift its population – the soldiers – toward the growth end by giving soldiers the psychological skills to stop the downward spiral that often follows failure.

The result was a $145 million initiative to teach positive psychology. Called CSF or Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, it contains three components: a test for psychological fitness, self-improvement courses available after the test, and “master resilience training” for the drill sergeants. The resilience training is based on “PERMA”: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning (that is, being connected to one’s deeper purpose), and accomplishment. To Seligman, these are the building blocks of resilience and growth (Seligman, 2011); note that meaning, or purpose, is one of just five strands of resilience skills training.

Similarly, Alvah Parker’s list of ten top traits of resilient people lists as number five that resilient people: “are connected to what is most important to them in life (their values) and see meaning and purpose in what they do. Instead of getting emotional about a situation they align their thoughts and actions with their values” (Parker, 2012). Parker recounts Assagioli’s story of the three stonecutters building a medieval cathedral to illustrate the point about the importance of purpose. When each of three stonecutters was asked in turn what they were doing, the first angrily replied, “As you can see, I’m cutting stones.” The second replied, “I’m earning a life for myself and my family.” The third stonecutter responded joyously, “I am building a great cathedral.” The last stonecutter was able to respond with joy because he perceived that he was partnering with a goal much larger than himself (Parker, 2012; Assagioli, 1973, p110).

Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, notions of resilience are at the heart of what we do as mental health professionals, whether we call it that or not. That is, our professions would not exist if clients believed that they did not sometimes need help in order to psychologically survive, let alone thrive. Whatever interventions we make on their behalf, they are backed by a desire to see clients choose responses to challenges that will “last the distance”: that is, be helpful and growth-engendering in the longer-term.

Hippocrates said that the natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well (Hippocrates, circa 400 B.C./2012). Perhaps our best role is to stand by clients, patiently helping them to recognise the immense power and endless potential that they can access if they but connect with that inner healing force: the limitlessly resilient Self that is the source of all triumph over adversity.

This article is adapted from Mental Health Academy’s “Fostering Resilience in Clients” CPD course. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2013: Mental Health Academy


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