What is Resilience, Anyway? Goals to Help Your Teen Clients Build Real-Life Resilience Skills

By Cheryl Bradshaw, author of The Resilience Workbook for Teens

The word “resilience” has come to mean many things to many people, both in the science arena and in our common layperson’s terms. So, how do we know we are really working on resilience with our teen clients?

The good news is, many of the things you are working on in therapy with your clients are likely already helping to build resilience—a trusting relationship with a caring adult is a huge resilience-building factor that no workbook can hope to re-create! The work that you do one-on-one with your clients is an invaluable resource. But what can we do to help clients beyond this to really develop their concrete resiliency skills, and how do we know that what we are working on is truly building real-world resiliency?

To know that we are on the right track, we look to the research. One of the top-ranked scales to measure resiliency is the CD-RISC (Connor & Davidson, 2003). In my new workbook, The Resilience Workbook for Teens, we break down the themes from this scale into five easy goals with concrete skills. These are five goals you can start noticing in your work with teens, today. Here are a few ideas to help get you started on active strategies that truly match up with the research on skill-based resilience.

Goal 1) Adapting to Change – After you have explored the idea that the brain can wire and rewire itself with your teen client, bring this to life in session by practicing some easy in-session examples of challenging old patterns in ways that teens can quickly see and connect with. An easy exercise here is to have your client practice crossing their arms the opposite way from how they are used to—and to examine how it feels to do it differently. Then, identify this “weird” new feeling, sit with it for a moment, and then, using this experience as a bridge, normalize how the brain will have the same “weird” reaction to when we try to change thought patterns and habits, too, to build in a willingness to step into resiliency work.

Goal 2) Overcoming Adversity – Build in a familiarity and willingness with your clients to sit with emotional discomfort as you help them understand what stress is and how it works in the body. Then, create an in-session example of discomfort to practice sitting with and overcoming. Try having them wrinkle their sock in their shoe, or hold onto an ice cube in session. As they practice sitting with discomfort and being able to overcome those experiences of adversity through positive self-talk, breathing, mantras, or other strategies you work on together, explain that their ability to sit with these feelings and overcome them can feel similarly to sitting with emotional discomfort to build up feelings of self-efficacy in their ability to tolerate stress and pain.

Goal 3) Finding Your Strength – Build in those deep resources of willingness to press into discomfort. Build out the “big picture” with teens by looking at meaning and values in past struggles, finding areas they have grown or found greater strength through difficult experiences. Have teens connect even more deeply by writing a letter to their “future selves”—from a current “good mood” moment of their lives, to a future version of themselves who isn’t doing so well and needs to be reminded of their strength and reasons for pushing through. Teens can come back to this letter and read it back to themselves to remember their strength when times are tough again.

Goal 4) Keeping Perspective – While most of us are well versed in self-care and mindfulness work with teens, we sometimes forget that humor can have a place in therapy and in resilience work as well. Try taking things to the next level by switching up perspective, and even practicing some comforting and healing humor when there is space to do so. Move in slowly to the most vulnerable areas to assess comfort with each client. Start by using an external example (a friend, or TV character) to notice how humor can be freeing and healing, and then shift to hypothetical first-person examples with your client, before moving into the more vulnerable area of present-day struggles. Your teen client can learn to keep perspective and lighten their emotional load through laughter and storytelling.

Goal 5) Staying Focused – Grit and growth mind-set are huge parts of resilience, and staying on track and focused through difficult times is the “take it on home” skill to round out the mix. An important skill here to help stay focused is being able to externalize the inner-critic voice and shift the conversation with that “part.” Give the inner critic a “face”—draw it out with your client, give it a name, and work together to start to understand this “part” a bit better, so you can negotiate with it, get to know it, and eventually, maybe even work alongside it as you face life’s challenges.

For more skills and concrete activities, check out my new book The Resilience Workbook for Teens, a great companion to my first book How to Like Yourself—two great resources to help your teen clients grow and build even deeper skills in between your sessions!

Connor, K.M., & Davidson, J.R. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). Depression & Anxiety: 18, 76–82. Retrieved from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cdf7/e48f5b42847e1d7cabd7a4fdcb3761a40279.pdf

Person looking into the oceanCheryl M. Bradshaw, MA, is a registered psychotherapist working in private practice, and author of How to Like Yourself—a self-esteem guide for teens that was a #1 new release in its category on Amazon. She has been featured on various television shows, radio shows, and podcasts, including Breakfast Television, Global’s The Morning Show, CBC Radio, and Today’s Parent. Her book was also selected as a 2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist for the 2016 Young Adult Nonfiction category. In addition, Cheryl received the inaugural Outstanding Alumni Award from Yorkville University in 2017. Cheryl served as a counselor at both Sheridan College and the University of Guelph. She also has a background in teaching, and continues to work with and volunteer with schools and charities to talk about youth and young adult mental health, self-esteem, and also to support parents with their teens.

Cheryl resides in Hamilton, ON, Canada, with her husband, Andrew, and their dogs, Darwin and Kiara. Find out more about Cheryl at www.cherylmbradshaw.com, and on social media @cherylmbradshaw.


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