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Resilience Takes "Center Stage"

By Michael Ceo


A significant shift is taking place in the training of mental health professionals. Rather than a focus on defining pathology, which is an unhealthy behavior response to a situation, research is being directed toward learning what makes people better able to prevail over lifeís challenges.   With the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and now people struggling with the aftermath of the hurricane disasters, the term, resilience is taking center stage as we witness together how people cope with loss.  

Resilience is the ability to maintain flexibility when going through what can be difficult times at any stage in your life or the lives of others.  In a resiliency training presentation I recently gave for a government agency, people spoke of the losses they have faced and the resources they brought to bear in an attempt to make sense of these events on their lives.  Magellan Behavioral Health, a leading provider of mental health care, researched and designed the program.    Evidence abounds that ordinary people can reach inside and uncover an extraordinary adaptability and emotional strength in a crisis while others are helplessly overwhelmed. It is becoming increasingly apparent that resilience can be learned and developed as any other skill.

What are the characteristics of resilient people and what are obstacles to learning these skills?  Resilient people have a positive, realistic attitude, tend to have caring, supportive relationships and are self- confident. They quickly absorb information, are open to options and hold the expectation that they can influence the outcome.  These are people who maintain their place in the driverís seat of life when others allow themselves to passively become passengers. 

The skills associated with resilience involve initially learning to find a sense of purpose and meaning in the crisis. This is where oneís spiritual faith or philosophy of life can make a major difference.  Competence in problem solving as well as the tendency to find pleasure in the small joys of life are other characteristics of resilient people.  Those who cultivate resilience make friends with change and accept change as an inevitable part of life. Resilient people quickly absorb new information. They also build relationships and experience themselves in the context of a community.  Resilient people learn to be doers and not complainers and develop the ability to care for themselves. They have a positive yet realistic attitude. They balance hope with realism.   Being resilient means believing you have the resources to cope. 

Obstacles to becoming resilient center on a rigid attitude toward change.  If someone stubbornly clings to a course of thinking or action despite evidence that this approach will not lead to the intended outcome, resilience will become blocked.  The rigidity of denial can create a blind spot, which blocks problem solving.  Sometimes people who are unable or unwilling to accept the painful reality of a mistake or loss hide this with a bravado or stubbornness that they falsely believe to be confidence or leadership.