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Resilience: What is it and where does it come from?

May 01

G’day all!  You’ve either heard me use, or maybe have read the term “resilience”, in your related research.  The most frequently asked question I receive from readers of the blog is, “what is it?”  I thought I might attempt a brief explanation; of course leaving room at the end of the piece to address your “esteemed leader”.

I’d like you to keep in mind that since “esteemed leader” gave his seal of approval to “E” Division’s failed attempt to discredit me with the College of Psychologists, I have been employed as the psychologist at a Canadian Forces Base on Vancouver Island.  In my capacity there I ran a group entitled “Resilience:You’re tougher than you think!”  I thought I might provide you with an outline of the group process in an effort to give you a better idea of what the term means to me.

Please keep in mind the group that I run is an educational\therapy group.  The group members can span those struggling with everything from the stress associated with meeting our everyday obligations to self and others, to coping with post traumatic issues related to military service; with that in mind our objective is always to enhance our effectiveness as military persons, citizens, parents, partners, and/or professionals; in addition to increasing our well being and developing our potential.

Initial Focus:

The initial focus is on the phenomenon of “resilience” and the competencies that contribute to it, these are; I) self awareness, ii) self regulation, iii) optimism, iv) mental agility, v) strength of character, and vi) connection.  The group is designed to meet once a week for 24 weeks; with the participants building their resilience by making these competencies part of themselves.  They are encouraged to apply themselves to, and incorporate within themselves the skills that contribute to resilience.

As part of the initial focus the group members are assisted in defining resilience as “the ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenge and to rebound from adversity.  They are aided in understanding that resilience can be built through a set of core competencies that produce mental toughness, optimal performance, strong leadership, (keep in mind, this is a military application of the skills) and goal achievement.

The bottom line at this stage for the group participants is to grasp firmly the idea that “resilient people bounce or bend but never break!”  It is considered a demonstration of resilience when, in any setting a person, even though under a great deal of personal stress can reach out and assist someone else.

Each group session has an educational component (that serves as a stimulus to discussion) and is often difficult to separate from the therapeutic component.  Early therapy interventions are used to assist group members in feeling comfortable with self disclosure; an example of such a topic is “how resilience facts contrast with resilience myths in your life”.  Some of the more common myths that arise include: “I must never show emotion”; I should be able to handle it on my own”; “I either have it or I don’t”; and, “life is a destination not a journey”.

The second phase of the group’s development introduces the six core competencies; they are discussed, learned, and applied.

Self awareness:

The military members learn to identify their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and the relationship between them; special attention is paid to counterproductive patterns.  The group members learn to be open and curious; especially with regard to their own process.

Self Regulation:

The military members learn how to gain control over and regulate their own impulses, feelings, and behaviours in an effort to achieve goals.  They learn how to appropriately express emotions that they previously attempted to block.  They learn how to recognize, stop, and change counterproductive thinking.


The group members are shown how, and encouraged, to “hunt the good stuff” in their lives; while remaining realistic and optimistic about their ability to deal with problems.  They learn what they can control and what they can’t.  They come to recognize what they have control over and what is beyond their control.  The participants are coached on how to maintain hope, have confidence in themselves and in their teammates (in a military setting).

Mental Agility:

The members of the group are taught how to think accurately (logically) and flexibly.  They are taught how to adopt other perspectives.  They are shown how to identify, analyze, and understand problems.  Through participating in the therapy sessions they come to appreciate the benefits of flexibility and the willingness to apply new strategies to old problems.

Strength of Character:

Through the course of their involvement the military members learn to identify their top strengths and how to use them to “meet and defeat” problems” in the attainment of objectives. They are encouraged to adopt a “winner’s attitude” and to kindle faith in their own strengths, talents, and abilities.


At this point I will remind you that this intervention is conducted in a group setting.  Over the course of the 6 months together the group members come to know each other on a very personal level; they build  strong relationships with each other.  Through trial and error they have developed an ability to communicate with each other both positively and effectively.  They have increased their ability to take different perspectives on a problem; to enable them to empathize.  They have each been humbled in  front of their peers, learned to ask for help and how to offer it to others.

In sum, after spending 24 sessions together, the members have increased their ability to deal with stress, to overcome setbacks, to solve problems, to remain task focused, and to perform under pressure; they have increased their confidence and decreased the tendency to view themselves as helpless (thus reducing the potential for increased anxiety or depression).

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain”.

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych.


P.S.  G’day Mr. Paulson (sorry, but I just can’t muster up the “C” word).  I’m writing this postscript today, as my last for now.  I won’t tell you that the persona (“Iron Mike”) that often inhabits me won’t be back; as he comes and goes when he feels the need.  I was possessed by him recently for a number of reasons, chief among them my desire to illustrate something to you.  I’ve been told that allowing him to enter me and to say the things I said to you, is “beneath” me. Mission accomplished!!!

My objective throughout the exercise has been  to get the attention of the membership; most importantly yours!!  My reputation isn’t mine.  It was given to  me by the working members.  It’s on loan to me from those I respect.  I wanted you to know that I would even squander that to make a point with you; more accurately to get you to pay attention to the archaic way in which they are treated.  I would sacrifice all that they have given me just to make them whole again.

I haven’t given up on you entirely, however for the time being, it looks as if I have failed to get your attention. Likely a case of “Iron Mike” starting to believe his own press clippings!   Dontcha’ think?  As a closer, never forget this……”The paradox of the ego is that first you must have one, to know it doesn’t exist”.

Just Mike.


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