News from SCA June 2015
Resilience by Monte Hasz

Why is it that some people thrive in the midst of adversity? Meanwhile other people, in similar circumstances, seem to encounter one trial after another, frequently struggle, and never seem to get their heads above water. The bigger question is how do we help those who are encountering difficult situations to thrive instead of becoming overwhelmed?

In the past few years, counseling researchers have identified and are studying a character trait that can answer these questions. Their research also gives perspective on how to help people when they encounter challenging situations. In addition, it gives strategies to help people preventatively. This involves assisting individuals proactively to develop attitudes and perspectives that increase their ability to handle the challenges of life rather than being bowled over by trials.

This trait and attitude is called resiliency. While research has recently recognized the importance of this attitude that contributes to thriving, it is a quality that has long been reflected in scripture. A resilient attitude is what Job expresses when he says of God, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15). This character quality is what Peter and the rest of the apostles exhibit when, after being flogged, they rejoiced, “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Resiliency is the ability to “bounce back” when encountering challenging situations. It is seeing the bigger picture, rather than being bogged down in the stress of current issues. This is similar to the biblical concept of hope. Biblical hope is the ability to trust that God is faithful when we do not see the end. Hope is trusting that he will keep his word and follow through on his promises. 

Recent research has identified the value of a resilient perspective. A resilient person is better able to with stand stress. In addition, a resilient person is often able to come back when encountering hardship and continue to function in spite of very challenging circumstances.  Research also suggests that resilient individuals are better able to control their emotional responses when in difficult situations, rather than have their emotions take over.

A key aspect of resiliency is the ability to focus on resources rather than the obstacles involved in a situation. People tend too often to look at what’s wrong and the difficulties that they are facing.  Instead, resiliency focuses on the ability to look at the opportunities in a situation and recognize how to utilize existing strengths to deal with challenges.

While resilience is reflected in scripture, it is more than an intellectual recognition of God’s faithfulness. It is an internal attitude and emotion that influences how a person lives and reacts to challenging situations. The good news also is that resilience is not just something that a person is born with. Rather a resilient outlook is one that people can develop.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: Resiliency sounds like an important concept. This attitude can certainly be helpful. But how can I help someone develop this way of looking at things?

A: There are a number of ways resiliency can be developed. Merton Strommen, in conjunction with the Lutheran Church, has developed a program called “Developmental Assets” that helps develop resiliency. The assets are research based and identified skills that help individuals effectively deal with life challenges. While the program is focused on adolescent coping skills, the approach is applicable to people of all ages. More information about the assets approach can be found at the Search Institute (http://www.search-institute.org/)

Q: I have heard about the field of “positive psychology.” Is resiliency an example of that? What other topics are they studying?

A: Yes, psychology as a field is moving towards a more balanced approach of understanding both how to help struggling people and how to help strengthen people and their overall quality of life. Often the “hot” topics in the area of positive psychology have been in scripture and spoken about for centuries!

Topics besides resiliency getting attention now include hope, forgiveness, joy, and healthy attachments. A Christian psychologist named Dr. Everett Worthington is doing great research and presenting on forgiveness – its power and steps to take to forgive others. We sponsored a research study (by Patrick Cleveland) here at SCA on hope that showed the more hope people had, the less depression they experienced.  Helping people learn real hope (not the cheerleader type!) that is intentional and deliberate, and giving people steps to take to build that hope helps prevent depression.

As Christian counselors, we have always sought to help our clients build these qualities in their lives. It does seem like the science of psychology is finally “catching up!”

Monte Hasz, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist
SCA clinical staff member

Questions and Answers

Q. What are the most common problems that you see at SCA in marriage counseling?

A. Because of the critical importance of both communication and partnership in a healthy marriage many times we deal with conflict, poor communication, difficulty expressing their needs to each other in constructive ways, and effective decision-making and problem solving in our sessions.

We often work to get couples to explore what their desired secondary gains are in the dysfunctional strategies people use.  Things we often hear include “so they hurt like I do” or “to make them finally listen to me.”  We then seek to help people meet this otherwise appropriate goal but in healthier, strategic, and biblically based ways. 
Since couples got married out of love, they each typically desire closeness and intimacy.  Once they are able to help stop the self-defeating behaviors and seek out healthier and more strategic approaches, positive change tends to build positive momentum and we see marriages grow.

Q. What are other problems that you see as you work with couples?

A. There are couples dealing with sin (i.e. affairs, pornography, lying, etc) that has become entrenched in their lives.  Especially if the couple are believers, they already know their behaviors are sin, but they can hold onto those things out of pride, selfishness, and rebellion.  A biblical phrase for this is “stiff-necked.”  Once they are open to confession and repentance, real growth can occur.

We often find couples have difficulty expressing feelings in healthy ways.  Often couples can go to opposite extremes, i.e. one only sharing thoughts but not feelings (come across as cold and condescending) and the other so emotionally expressive that there is a lack of self-control.  Anger is often a troublesome feeling that is either viewed as bad and sinful or as a weapon to be used!  The couples need to learn healthy ways to use anger, how to “fight fair” and when to use “time outs” and other strategies to work through emotions in a constructive way!
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