Resilience

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How I wish I could capture and distill the dignity and spirit of clients facing daily battles with mental health problems. It is quite extraordinary how the human spirit to survive and flourish can remain in the face of fear, anxiety and despair.

There is a great deal of research into factors affecting resilience; some point to positive role models, and others to character traits. In my experience, it remains a mystery.

I have met individuals who have endured multiple traumatic events, face obsessive rituals that dominate their days, and struggle with unimaginable inner torment. And yet, these individuals continue to seek answers and solutions to their unwelcome afflictions. It is a credit to them as individuals and a testament to the human determination to survive.

I believe it is near impossible for those who have never experienced a loss of reality or an event that defies belief, to imagine what life might look life in the aftermath of this: darker, more fragile, unjust? And yet, there are survivors, those who have been there and back again.

There is a theory, loosely based on the common dictum: ‘What doesn’t kill us…only makes us stronger’. It is called Post Traumatic Growth Theory. This theory suggests that it is not only possible to successfully treat symptoms associated with trauma but to growpersonally as a result of this. I am not entirely bowled over by this assumption given the perhaps overly positive spin it suggests. However, I would very much like to believe that the human spirit can accommodate significant blows and remain resolute in the face of an uncertain future where appropriate support is provided.

I can testify to what I have seen in my practice; a desire to find meaning where at first there seems none. This need for meaning aligns itself with the metaphor of the brain as an information processing system. If it is possible to locate trauma and injustice within some form of an extended world view, then what occurs to us over our lifetime, good or bad, might have some chance of being appropriately accommodated, along with all the other experiences and memories that we so efficiently store away.

Following successful treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, I have often observed a shift in clients’ perspectives towards the self, others and the world. Where once there was no self-compassion to be found, kindness might evolve. Where there was no purpose, a desire to support others can emerge. Perhaps it is integral to the human mind to find meaning in the face of adversity.

Whatever may be the key to resilience, it must not be overlooked by the symptoms associated with poor mental health. To do so would be a huge disservice to those who have suffered and survived.

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