Do you know that every time that we care for another or even ourselves, we are supporting the resilience response within?
You would not be reading this article today unless you were resilient. However, we need to maximise our reservoirs of resilient energy as we are constantly accessing them and they can quite quickly become depleted unless we replenish our reserves.
By the way, I have been studying the process of resilience since 2008 as I completed my thesis on this topic: The Ordinariness of Resilience: A Counselling Psychology Perspective. In this I looked at how survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland experienced resilience while in institutions but also later in their lives. From that time, while working as a psychologist, my approach has always been to work on this innate process within us all.
I feel that a problem in the way that we care is that we are not focusing enough on this human, innate, ever-present resource called resilience, when we are working with clients. Instead we are spending too much time and effort on what is not present.
There are many ways that we can care for people. We can support them through their current trials such as illness or just being overwhelmed with life’s challenges. We can teach people, as is the case with teachers and lecturers. We can remove obstacles, as is the case with social workers. We can protect people, as is the case with police. We can nurse people back to full health, as is the case with nurses. Or we can work on their psychological processes to improve well-being, as the case with the psychotherapist or psychologist.
But in supporting people in various ways what we are also doing is supplementing their efforts to move forward again in life. So it is not just care that we are giving people, we are also supporting their resilience response.
Sometimes when activating the resilience response in us, we might be using old and well-used coping mechanisms that have worked for us in the past. Maybe in childhood or teenage years these might have been very effective for us to use, but today they are not as effective.
The reason for this is that our context is so different. Life in the 21st century is changing at such a fast pace that we are dizzy just trying to keep up. In the last 20 years our life and how we live it has changed immeasurably. So, when we are caring for people, as well as the arm we are putting around them, we might also be telling them how to cope differently and use different strategies to supplement or even replace the old coping strategies that might not be working anymore, or at least are not as effective as they once were.
Changing our focus
In Chapter 2 of my book, Time to Change the Way that we Care, I elaborate on all of the above points but one that I would like to highlight here is that we need to change what we focus on when we are caring for people to enhance their resilience process.
And the question that I ask is: Do we spend too much time working on what is not present (what I call deficits or challenges) instead of working on what we already have in the locker (in ourselves) which is our strengths?
I am not saying here that we should not work on deficits in people, of course we should. But in the majority of situations, the person might never fully be able to fill these deficits as there are so many other influences – political, societal and other people – in their life that also need to change as well.
There is also the situation where the deficit might never be able to be filled. For example, the loss of a particular relationship or job – they might never be able to get these back again. Or a person that has passed. There might be financial or geographical barriers to achieving what the person wants to achieve.
Maybe over time these can be overcome and they can travel to where they need to be or find the money for what they need in their life. Unfortunately, we are only in people’s lives as carers for a short period of time. So what is the best use of that time?
What is certain is that people have a lot already in their locker and might not be fully aware that it is there or that this is a huge asset and strength that they could use more. A soccer player that is a forward does not decide to become a goal keeper (as they lack the skills of a keeper). No, what they will do is enhance and develop the skills they have to score goals. Why should we as carers be trying to make someone a keeper when they are a good forward as is. Soccer players will keep on working on their skills (assets) to make them better.
We should work the same way with our clients, focusing just as much on what they have (strengths) as on what they don’t have (deficits or challenges).
That is why I always emphasize that this is what we, as caregivers, are primarily doing each day, when working with people; we are supporting their resilience process. This might be just holding, containing the person – or it can be achieved by just being present with them, listening, speaking, reflecting, advising, respecting, counselling, using various interventions and sign-posting them to other support.
Jointly working on this process of resilience is where we need to focus our efforts more going forward in how we care. The client that is in front of you right now is resilient and has been so since the moment that they were conceived; all they are looking for is support in making modifications and becoming more aware of how strong and resilient they actually are. Caring for someone is the simple act of allowing the person to recover and move forward again (resilience). This is achieved by supporting the client to change how they cope or live their lives.
Let’s change the way that we care…
If you have any comments on the above please contact me as shown below.
Thanks for Reading
Dr Dermot Casey
Counselling Psychologist, Cork, Ireland.