Courses

Resilience Training

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and adversity. It is innate in all of us to varying degrees. We can be incredibly naturally resilient in some situations and not so much in others. When we are resilient, Dr Ann Masten, Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, calls it, 'ordinary magic'.

The University of Pennsylvania began studying the notion of resilience, and found that some people were better at bouncing back than others. However, they then went on to show that anyone can improve their resilience through effective training and development. On the basis of this research they devised the Penn Resiliency Programme (PRP) to teach resilience skills. A total of 21 studies showed a significant reduction in depression and anxiety and a marked increase in well-being in those undertaking the programme.

Based on the PRP, this workshop will explore one aspect of resilience - how to manage your state. This is an enjoyable multimedia romp through: how we find ourselves in unwanted states, recognising what's happening, choosing how we would like to be instead, tools to achieve that and how to get better at doing it over time.

This session is aimed at anyone who faces pressure-based or challenging situations in their working lives. It explores techniques you can use to control general anxiety and particularly with regard to presentation, exam, and interview nerves. It provides approaches which provide protection from the negative effects of stress and a tool to build personal resilience.

For more information about running bespoke in-house training or public courses please email us

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Notes on Resilience

Most people are exposed to one or more traumatic events in their lifetime and many endure stressful conditions which persist over time. There has been a shift from a traditional focus on the negative impact of stress towards the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms associated with resilient responses to stress. Resilience is 'the ability of individuals to adapt successfully in the face of acute stress, trauma, or chronic adversity, maintaining or rapidly regaining psychological well-being and psychological homeostasis'. (Reich et al.,2010). Research is consistently highlighting that protective factors can be strengthened utilising an integrative model of resilience yielding a range of preventative strategies for stress related disorders. Perspectives are changing with regard to psychosocial, developmental and neurochemical resilient responses to stress resulting in promising preventative and therapeutic strategies. (Charney 2004). What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Research has identified the link between a lowered immune system and stress. Prolonged bouts of stress can leave us susceptible to illness and may lead to depression. When our immune system is challenged the first response is the 'acute phase response' which is a generalised coverall response. Then, after around three days, the acquired phase response kicks in. This is where the immune system learns about the pathogen and produces something more targeted which allows the system to respond more accurately and quickly the next time.

With respect to resilience, most research has concentrated on the initial acute phase or innate response. Miles Herkenham at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, took a different approach and concentrated on the adaptive, acquired branch of the immune system. They introduced a aggressive mouse or bully into the cages of male mice. The bullied mice began to exhibit the behaviours of depression, cowering in the corner and uninterested in the scent of a female. Then, after some time, their adaptive immune cells were extracted and injected into other mice who, by breeding, were known for their unresponsiveness. The effect in these mice was like that of an anti depressant. The normally unresponsive mice became more lively and more interested in female mice than they had been, resulting in what Herkenham describes as a 'personality change'. He propounds that the immune cells react to stress by building up a sort of mood-boosting resilience. But the question is why the bullied mice did not become better at coping with their oppressor? It may be that the innate immune system is effectively battling with the adaptive system to dominate mood. The initial response is the mechanism which initially puts us in what's called 'sickness behaviour' while the adaptive system goes to work. This manifest itself as sitting in a corner, the licking of physical and mental wounds, results in thickened blood and which looks for all the world, like depression.

Dylen Evans, in his book 'Placebo: The belief effect', suggests that the innate initial response of pain, swelling, fever, lethargy, apathy, or 'sickness behaviour' is not pathological or abnormal, but a natural part of the healing process. As soon as the acquired or adaptive system is ready to go to work, the innate system should turn off. The mechanism that does this sometimes does not function and this malfunction is, he argues, linked to 'belief'.

The human being is a complex system designed to remain in homeostasis, adjusting constantly to that end. To a large extent people are held in mental cells of their own making, resisting change to maintain the status quo. That is until that homeostasis is no longer appropriate. At certain points in peoples' lives change becomes necessary for development or because the status quo is no longer viable. Sometimes the unconscious mind will take over when change is not consciously embraced. In extremes, when a tipping point is reached, an unconscious 'bomb' is detonated in order to produce change that the unconscious mind has deemed important. Extreme examples include 'loosing it ' at work in order to be sacked because a person could not find the courage to look for a new job, or a marriage broken by an affair rather than a frank discussing about how they have drifted apart. In the face of a bully, largely unconscious computation takes place. Calculations are done factoring how much cost to the system to stand up to the bully, communal support, garnering of personal resources will often result in an acceptance of the status quo. In order to make a change, to overcome the homeostasis, a change in perception is required or what Evans (2003) calls 'a belief'. As long as the mice believe that they have no chance of defeating or standing up to the bully they are stuck in acute phase response, the sickness behaviour, the depression, in spite of the fact that at a cellular level the body is primed to support them. If however we changed one thing in their system of perceptions, change their cognitions, then they could begin to dispense with the innate response and allow the adaptive response to begin working to change their mood.

Taking the theory of cybernetics and applying it to our cognitions and a systems' desire for balance then, by changing one thing in the system, the rest of the system will respond. One way to change the cognitive system is by introducing new ways of thinking and perception and this can be achieved by resilience training. What is implicit in this study is that once stress is encountered, even at a cellular level the body is waiting to support the mind to grow and change. Beer (1966), one of the fathers of cybernetics 'often cited nature as a complex system that remains viable through its self-organisation' (Medina 2014). A human being, as part of nature, is a complex system endeavouring to remain in homeostatic equilibrium. If this is no longer healthy for the individual and change is required, to modify the behaviour of the system, it is not necessary to control every aspect, one only need change one subsystem, Beer believed. In doing that, the overall system will naturally drift towards the desired goal. Injecting new ways of thinking and behaving will change the point of homeostatic equilibrium to one more congruent with the overall goal as defined by the person.

© Dorothy C Le Grove

Biliography

Reich J W Zautra A J Stuart Hall J (Ed.) 2010 Handbook of Adult Resilience The Giilford Press London

Charney D S 2004 Psychobiological mechanisms of resilience and vulnerability :Implications for successful adaption to extreme stress. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 195-216.

Brachman R A Lehmann M L Maric D Herkenham M Lymphocytes from Chronically Stressed Mice Confer Antidepressant-Like Effects to Naive Mice The Journal of Neuroscience 28 January 2015, 35(4)

Evans E Placebo: the belief effect London: HarperCollins 2003, pp. xvi, 224.

Medina E 2014 Cybernetic Revolutionaries Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile MIT Press

Beer A S 1966 Decision and Control Wiley London.