Building Resilience: 9 Steps for Recovery from Mental Health Issues
Clients who come to counseling have many different mental health issues. The way problems are solved differs from person to person. There is one factor, however, I have seen over and over that I believe is very important to build into recovery from mental health issues. It is the factor of resilience. The basic dictionary meaning of resilience is twofold.First, resilience means the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape – i.e., elasticity. Two, resilience means, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. If a person expects to recover from a current difficulty there needs to be some resiliency on their part.
Some people believe that resiliency is mostly acquired in early age. There probably is some truth to this thought. For example, when resiliency is modeled early in life by a parent, the children may be able to bounce back from their problems easier than someone who did not see it modeled.
Abraham Lincoln is a good example of resiliency. He faced many difficulties in life leading up to his presidency. Most of us view him as a successful president of the United States credited with keeping the union together. What many do not know is that he faced many failures in his early life.
In business, he went bankrupt at least twice and he lost some big elections before he became president. Abraham Lincoln, after becoming president, also took care of a wife who had a severe mental illness.
I have always wondered what made President Lincoln so resilient. Perhaps his parents taught him this. I often use this example with clients to tell them that humanity is messy and often self- destructive, but one ability humans tend to have is resilience. Humans flail and falter yet often bounce back like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Other people believe that resiliency can be learned and/or acquired at any time in life for the problem at hand. In counseling, a good counselor will try to help a client find the building blocks of resilience already in themselves. If the foundation is not there a client can still work on the building blocks of resiliency.
A lot depends on learning how to think differently about the difficulty one is currently going through. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does this by helping the brain learn more positive ways of thinking and then rehearsing them until they become positive habits.
I have noticed that some clients have more resiliency than others. Perhaps some have learned early on the steps of resiliency. I have come to believe that all humans can access resiliency when needed. I tell clients it is one of our superpowers.
It all comes down to the steps of resilience. What is resilience built with? Can these steps to resilience be acquired once you are grown up? My hope in this article is that you will find ways to build your own resilience when life becomes difficult.
9 Steps of Resilience
These steps of resilience may lead to a new path of recovery that will serve you well. In this article, I share nine steps of resilience that help lead to recovery from mental health issues.
Spirituality (Faith) builds resiliency that leads to recovery. Not just religion or dogma, not just belonging to a church, but faith in a higher power. The ability to have a set of beliefs around that higher power that encourage a person to believe for what cannot currently be seen.
Ask anyone who has gone to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) how belief in a higher power helps them recover from addiction as they go through a 12-step program in an effort to stay sober. I have worked with addiction clients who grabbed hold of faith and bounced to multiple years of sobriety.
Now, this is not an easy process, but all the ones I have spoken to, who have been resilient, attest that the belief in a higher power had a lot to do with their recovery. There are no shortcuts, they still had to go to meetings, change their environment, get a sponsor and become accountable for their actions but it starts with faith before they see the results. Of course, this is not belief in just any higher power but it is the power of almighty God who Christians call Jesus Christ.
PurposeA second step that builds resiliency towards recovery is Purpose (Hope). People need to find purpose in life. We all have existential questions: Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? When I was learning how to be a counselor in school, I learned that that one of the most important things to instill in a client is hope.
Without hope, it does not really matter which counseling theory is used. A client has to believe that the future can be different and better. If faith says this is how it is today, then hope says this is how it will be tomorrow. Hope is like future faith. How many things have you worried about that are not here yet?
Jesus told us not to borrow troubles from the future. If we can’t borrow the good from tomorrow why borrow the bad? I don’t believe you can work up faith and hope. I do believe it can be appropriated from God. He wants to instill enough hope that however low a person falls he/she will be able to reach up and grab hold of what is needed.
A third step that builds resiliency towards recovery is Compassion (Love). According to Jesus, the two greatest commandments are: to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. Honestly, it is because God first loved us that we can love Him. He loved us and died for us while we were still His enemies.
This love He has graciously shared with us, through the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ, allows us to love others. Compassion is how we express love to others. When I am counseling people who are going through a dark time, we usually end up talking about compassion and serving others.
Our problems tend to make us see only ourselves and often miss what is happening around us including who else is hurting. Many times, I have helped a client look up, away from their own problems, and start having compassion for others.
Just small acts of service can change an outlook and help resilience to do its thing. It is amazing how practicing the second great commandment not only impacts the one receiving compassion but also helps the one sharing compassion.
The fourth step of building resilience that leads to recovery is Mentorship. Mentoring allows someone to take the person under their wing and share valuable life experience. Grandparents, parents, pastors, teachers, and even bosses can fulfill the role of mentorship.
Mentors use their experience to help a mentee work through challenges that otherwise might derail him/her, or at least take longer if faced on one’s own. Experience is the main source the mentor uses to encourage new opportunities. A successful mentor can build resiliency that helps a person to recover.
For example, when I would get discouraged in the ministry, I would talk to my father often. He had been a pastor for more than 50 years. I would give him the reasons I could not do something and he would listen. Then he would give me some advice if he had some and he always would pray for me.
I can’t count the times this happened and it always changed my mind or my heart. I think this was because I always knew my dad had my back and supported me. He didn’t criticize but he did encourage. My mentor helped to build resiliency in my ability to minister to God’s people.
A mentor can inspire resiliency in people of all ages. Counselors mentor people to think differently about personal problems. Pastors inspire people to view life from a spiritual perspective. Sponsors help people learn to walk in addiction recovery. These are just a few examples of mentors that can help a person learn resiliency, regardless of one’s age, that may assist in recovery from life’s issues.
A fifth step to resiliency that leads to recovery is Discipline. I always say this is the dirty “D” word that no one wants to hear about. Discipline is one of the traits of success. Nothing in life is accomplished without discipline. Success does not come easy.Olympian Athletes train twelve or more hours daily for years just to prepare for the games. When I practiced my saxophone, I would practice for six hours a day while I was in college. Private lessons, two school bands, and a private jazz band.
There was talent, but it had to be rehearsed and honed so that it could excel. I travelled all over North America playing my saxophone. It was a lot of work. There were many difficulties and at times bad performances but discipline kept me practicing and improving my skill. Discipline helped me to be resilient with my craft. I believe this is why music is called a discipline.
There is also a story that Edison had thousands of attempts before he finally invented the light bulb. Edison was disciplined enough that even though he attempted thousands of ways to create a light bulb, he kept coming back and would not quit until he ended up with a working light bulb. For this determined resilience, we will be forever grateful to Mr. Edison.
A sixth step to build resiliency that leads to recovery is Work. The discipline mentioned in the previous paragraph takes hard work. Have you heard the saying that one appreciates more what they earn by hard work? I have envied the earlier generations because life problems made them buckle down and do some plain hard work. They had no choice. This ended in great success.
About thirty years after the turn of the twentieth century there was the “Great Depression.” The world economic downturn left millions out of work, starved people, toppled governments, and started wars. These wars turned into World War II. In the history of the United States, it was perhaps the most trying and dangerous of times.
World War II veterans are often called part of the “Exceptional Generation” because they were called to sacrifice and do things that few other people have been expected to do. This generation fought, they sacrificed, and just did some plain hard work. They had a work ethic, fraught from desperation, and they became determined to succeed.
There were many mistakes, poor political decisions, failures, and battles lost, but they worked through it all. They were one of the most resilient generations in the history of the United States. Today, in a culture of entitlement, the work ethic has changed.
It is difficult to think that a similar world crisis would be met with the same commitment to hard work. Without the hard work, how resilient could the country be? It remains an unanswered question.
Ambition is a seventh step to build resiliency that leads to recovery. Ambition is a strong desire to accomplish or achieve something. It is an innate drive to find meaning. Most people in our culture find meaning from their work. Self-esteem is often tied to one’s work.
I have clients who do not work for various different reasons. If they do not work then I attempt to encourage them to have activities, a schedule of events that not only keep them busy but get things accomplished. Some of these activities usually include serving others. This helps build self-esteem.
Another reason I encourage such a schedule is to help inspire some ambition that makes them want to get up in the morning and try again, ambition that develops a passion for life and helps them be more resilient. For example, without ambition counseling sessions are usually unsuccessful.
I have this axiom I use often when a client does not have much ambition. I never work harder than my clients. I have learned that they must have the motivation and with it, ambition to do the work of recovery. I can teach pyscho-education, coping skills, and share life-stories but this will not help a person who does not have the ambition to get better.Sometimes people are just lazy. However, I suspect that lack of ambition is more often tied to a person’s self-esteem. If a person has trouble believing that they have value there is usually little ambition. Without ambition, there is little resiliency and it becomes more difficult to bounce back from one’s problems.
A person with low-self- esteem usually needs a different context from which to work. An atmosphere of Non-judgmental encouragement, around positive people, is a good place to start. This can improve self-esteem, which encourages a person to attempt new things. When a person begins to have success, ambition often increases. When ambition increases resiliency is often one of the by-products.
An eighth step to build resiliency that leads to recovery is Behavior. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) one works on changing thoughts, speech, and actions. In personal recovery, one learns that behavior changes are essential to making progress and moving forward in life. Once a person begins to change his/her thinking and speech it seems logical that actions (behavior) should follow.
This is not always the case. I have had some clients expect me to change them. They come to one or two sessions and say, “Well that didn’t work.” At other times people are just scared to make a change. “I have been doing this so long and it is the only thing that works.”
The person who thinks this way is defeated before he/she gets started. Numerous failures to make a behavior change often teach the person that behavior change is not possible. This is the wrong lesson. On the other hand, a person who starts to change behavior will begin to have success and build on it with another behavior change.
With each new behavior change, the person develops resiliency which can build toward recovery. I never know when a client has hit bottom, but when they do is usually when the behavior changes start and resiliency often follows. Behavior changes may include nurturing one’s self or beginning a new social network that is more supportive.
It may involve learning how to be more optimistic and have a positive outlook on life. Behavior changes are a lot of work as they must be repeated often to become healthy habits. When resiliency is the payoff the hard work it is worth it.
A ninth step to build resiliency that leads to recovery is Perception. How a person views a problem in life can impact the ability to bounce back(resiliency) and recover. A simple example is the perception of pain.
A person can be optimistic or pessimistic about pain. For example, is the pain a challenge or a burden? Is the pain something that can be improved or must it be tolerated? How a person views their pain can have a lot to do with how they handle it.
This is true of emotional pain as well. In therapy, I often help clients reframe their problems. In other words, I help change their perception of the negative events. I will often use the example of my own depression, burnout in ministry, loss of my father, cancer and the other life problems I was experiencing in negative ways that a counselor helped me find a different perspective.
The new perspective ultimately led me to become a counselor. It was the Lord who actually changed my perspective. Don’t misunderstand me, the negative events in my life I still consider negative. I don’t think God caused them but I do think he used them all for my ultimate good (Ro. 8:28).
I needed a counselor to help me look at the same stuff and put a better frame around it. The content is the same but my perception has changed. Even though I felt like a failure this reframe made me resilient enough to go back to college at age 45 and get a masters degree. I was willing to try again. Change your perception, build resiliency, change your life.
Nine steps to build resiliency that leads to recovery in mental health. There are likely more than nine steps, but I believe this short article will help you to look for ways to be resilient in your life. I believe you too can be resilient as you face life issues. I trust this article has built some hope in you where previously there was little hope.
Don’t give up try again. Take some steps to resiliency. Resiliency is like a superpower. I believe it is God-given. It is the gift that keeps on giving no matter what is faced. If you are having trouble bouncing back from a life issue give me a call today. I would be pleased to help you build resiliency that would lead to your recovery.
“One Tree”, Courtesy of Karim Manjra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tree on Cliff”, Courtesy of Mkamuki0, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Runner”, Courtesy of Quino Al, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Arizona Sunset”, Courtesy of Lauren Lorincz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License