If you spend any time scrolling social media newsfeeds, you will invariably come across someone writing about resilience. To be quite honest, I saw the word come up so much it lost all meaning for me, as I wasn’t seeing the fruit of this concept. It felt like it was another word we threw around that didn’t hold much substance for people.
How wrong I was.
My problem had been with understand what resilience is, how it works and why it’s necessary if we are going to facilitate people recover. You see, tapping into a person’s resilience allows them to own their recovery experience.
I thought resilience was another set of psycho babble soft skills that we were supposed to prescribe that no one did outside of the “therapy” or “intervention” room.
And it was no wonder I was confused. I think the practice of resilience has been severely watered down and become a shell of what it truly has to offer.
Defining Resilience has been a source of academic rigor over the past 30 years, as it is a process rather than a trait or state of being (Rutter, 2008; M. Rutter, 2013). Michael Ungar however, notes resilience is the ability to navigate and negotiate with one’s social ecology (Ungar, Brown, Liebenberg, Cheung, & Levine, 2008, p. 168). This implies through all life stages, personal and social competence develops through navigating and negotiating various social contexts in which a person is housed. As with many aspects of social development, going from one life stage to another brings several challenges which can cause stress and difficulties, however it is in the context of these difficulties that the skills of navigation and negotiation are tested.
Resilience is therefore defined to include 3 interacting components.
- the development of personal and social competence.
- navigating and negotiating with available social resources and
- these processes occur during adversity (Worsley, 2017).
When we explore these 3 interacting components, is it any wonder that we have the difficulties we have in engaging and empowering people to take back control of their life including their work following an injury or illness.
We are so very quick to ‘equip’ people with RTW plans, suitable duties programs, treatment modalities, medical opinions, radio-logical studies, more medical opinions, more alternative duties, without identifying how this person we are so busily trying to equip is going to use this knowledge, these skills, these tools. We are in fact super-imposing our own set of prescriptions onto a client without helping them to integrate what knowledge and skills they already had at their disposal to be able to lead their own recovery process.
We forget that people come with stuff. We are used to assessing for the “baggage” that might contraindicate a successful recovery and return to work process. What about the “stuff” that a person can draw upon to help themselves?
To be frank, if we don’t tap into the resilience that a client comes to us with, and build on their internal existing resources, we are kind of missing the point of how we help clients take back control of their life, including their health. And if we keep doing this often enough we simply create dependence on us as a service provider, we create an increased level of fear that will simply contribute to a lack of resolution in health symptoms and increased claims costs as people are too fearful of the unknown consequences of “ what if it goes wrong”.
Utilising a person’s resilience and then building upon their existing resilience knowledge and skills, by demonstrating how they have over come difficulties in the past; reinforcing their strengths; teaching them basic social and emotional intelligence, just makes sense. When we facilitate this learning, then we will genuinely empower client’s to take back control of their own experience.
Most clients don’t want to be told what to do. Many clients tell us that they have ‘tried” everything, and “nothing” works. It’s a very different story when we stop and ask a client – what do you think needs to happen now, and how can we help you with that? Clients have a wealth of knowledge and quite often they know what they need.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that client’s need everything they say they want, and it is not our role to support unreasonable and unhelpful requests. We do have a responsibility here for ethical behaviour and to be financial responsible (what is reasonable and necessary). What I am suggesting is that we have ignored a fundamental component of every person’s recovery experience – what they already know about overcoming adversity.
When we were asked by iCare to create a program to help workers who have high support needs, we were asked because of the success we have with client’s given our approach to engage then empower before we equip. Here at Purple Co we don’t use compliance as the ruling measure of why someone wants to return to work or pre disability life activities. In fact, we find that approach a hindrance to recovery. (We understand that there are rules, responsibilities and obligations we don’t ignore these)
The foundational component of how we work is to tap into a person’s known resilience and build on this knowledge and skills set. This creates the expectation of ‘I Can’ with clients instead of them turning up with an expectation of “what are you going to make me do”.
An empowered client makes this work so much more rewarding. Jo Muirhead
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References used in this article:
Rutter, 2008; M. Rutter, 2013
Ungar, Brown, Liebenberg, Cheung, & Levine, 2008, p. 168