Approaches to Resilience-Building
So how is resilience built? The American Psychological Association (APA) has published its own research-based public information leaflet entitled The Road to Resilience, developed by a team of six psychologists working in this area. Their ten recommendations for developing and maintaining resilience can be paraphrased as follows:
- Maintain good relationships with family, friends, and others
- Avoid seeing situations as insurmountable problems and look for ways forward where possible
- Accept certain circumstances as being outside of your control, where necessary
- Set realistic goals, in small steps if necessary, and plan to work regularly on things that are achievable
- Take decisive action to improve your situation rather than simply avoiding problems
- Look for opportunities for personal growth by trying to find positive or constructive meaning in events
- Nurture a positive view of yourself and develop confidence in your ability to solve problems
- Keep things in perspective by looking at them in a balanced way and focusing on the bigger picture
- Maintain a hopeful and optimistic outlook, focusing on concrete goals, rather than worrying about possible future catastrophes
- Take care of yourself, paying attention to your own needs and feelings and looking after your body by taking healthy physical exercise and regularly engaging in enjoyable, relaxing and healthy activities, perhaps including practices such as meditation
This Book’s Approach
The self-help approach to resilience-building described in this book draws upon established resilience training programmes but also incorporates many elements from more recent research on mindfulness and acceptance-based approaches to the treatment of common psychological problems. The specific form of acceptance-based therapy most relevant to resilience-building is perhaps Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which later chapters will discuss in more detail. The central goal of ACT is increasing general “psychological flexibility”, a concept quite similar to psychological resilience.
Subsequent chapters will look at the ACT approach to psychological flexibility and resilience and how more traditional cognitive-behavioural skills can be incorporated with a mindfulness and acceptance-based approach. Their contents might be summed-up as follows:
1. Psychological flexibility skills (Mindfulness and valued living)
- Clarification of personal values
- Commitment to valued action
- Defusion of unpleasant or unhelpful thoughts
- Willing acceptance of unpleasant feelings
- Awareness of the self as observer
- Connection with the present moment
2. Additional skills and strategies
- Worry postponement
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Applied relaxation
- Assertiveness and other social skills
Some of these headings may seem a little cryptic at first but they’ll become clear as you read the following chapters. In a nutshell, this approach shares certain elements with established resilience-building approaches. The main difference is that it places greater emphasis upon your relationship with unhelpful thoughts and beliefs rather than attempting to dispute them. It also emphasises the role of clarifying and acting in accord with personal values, which is similar, however, to the emphasis on “signature strengths” adopted in Seligman’s more recent work.
In the final chapter, we’ll also be looking at perhaps the oldest Western system of resilience-building, the classical Graeco-Roman school of philosophy known as “Stoicism”, which is derived from the teachings of Socrates and influenced the development of modern CBT (Robertson, 2010). The Stoics are, in a sense, the ancient forebears of most modern resilience-building approaches. Indeed, Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher who has most influenced the field of psychotherapy, has been described as “the patron saint of the resilient” (Neenan, 2009, p. 21).
Developing a Personal Resilience Strategy
A good way to start resilience building consists in reviewing your past experiences to identify what you can learn about coping with stress and developing a personal resilience plan or strategy for the future. This approach is recommended by the APA in their guidance on resilience and similar exercises have been used in CBT for resilience-building.
Try it now: Evaluate your previous resilience strategies
- Identify a specific time in the past when you have shown resilience in the face of adversity or coped well with stressful life events
- What was your goal?
- What was the actual outcome?
- What obstacles did you have to overcome?
- What unpleasant thoughts and feelings do you remember having in that situation?
- Who, if anyone, did you receive external help or support from?
- What specific attitudes or skills helped you cope with the situation?
- How would you rate your resilience in that situation (0-100%)?
- Why wasn’t it 0%? What strengths and personal qualities helped you?
- If it wasn’t 100%, how could your resilience be improved during similar situations in the future?
- Based on your experience, how might you advise someone else to cope with a similar problem in the future?
- If you want, repeat the process above for about three situations in total and look for patterns in your problems and ways of coping