Recognizing and Fostering Resilience Copy

Defining Resilience

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after adversity.

One of the most critical skills that peer specialists teach in mentoring their clients is the skill of resilience. Resilience generally means the capacity to bounce back after adversity. There are many stories of people with significant life problems, including behavioral health disorders, who are still able to lead positive lives and make contributions to society. The common factor in increasing resilience is a positive connection with another human being. Oftentimes, people who have overcome major difficulties in their lives can pinpoint a single person who made the difference for them. It is the person who took the time to listen, who believed in them and offered them hope. The person may not have even been trying to increase the other person’s resilience—it just happened.

We all have the capacity to help people with substance use and mental health disorders to increase their resilience. Their families, and caregivers can also contribute to enhancing resilience. Research shows that resilience is fostered by:


These factors might seem quite obvious and based on common sense. Indeed, they are. As humans, we all want opportunities to be connected, to be supported, and to contribute to the world in positive ways. Of these factors, a caring relationship has the greatest influence.

Building resilience is a process. It evolves over time as new skills are developed, knowledge is acquired and challenges are overcome. The qualities and characteristics that enhance resilience help to protect a person from negative social and emotional consequences of various life stressors. These factors can be internal, such as general temperament and social skills and external factors such as caring relationships and positive role models.

Individuals with behavioral health disorders may have lost touch with their own resilience and the peer support specialist can play an important role in helping the client to reconnect with this asset. Asking questions about times in the past when the client was successful in handling a situation and helping the client to remember that success can be helpful in reviving resilience. Exploring whether there is a positive relationship for the client to draw from can also be helpful. The peer support specialist can also help the client to foster new, healthy relationships that can be assets in the future.

Resilience allows us to bounce back from negative life experiences and to become even stronger in the process. The peer support specialist can assist the client in building on the four key strengths that help to support resilience as described below.

Social Competence

Social competence is the ability to form and sustain relationships. The peer support specialist can assist the client in understanding how to manage relationships and where to find healthy peer groups to connect with. When an individual feels connected to the world and feels comfortable with their place in that world, they have relationships that can help to sustain them through difficult times. Social competence includes knowing that you can be helpful and contribute to family and community with what you have to offer.


Some individuals with behavioral health disorders have faced so many difficult life situations where they did not succeed that they have developed a sense of “learned helplessness” – the belief that they cannot succeed. They have forgotten how to think through a problem and arrive at a solution. Peer support specialists can help their clients, not by solving their problems, but by helping the clients to solve the problems themselves. Role modeling the critical thinking and decision-making skills that are required for successful problem-solving can encourage clients to try these processes within the safety of the peer relationship. Goal setting is another skill where the peer support specialist can be helpful in helping the client to develop these skills.


Autonomy is about independence and being able to make choices for oneself. The peer support specialist can help the client to develop this sense of autonomy by emphasizing the principles of person-centered care and teaching self-advocacy skills. Self-Awareness is about independence, and being able to make choices that affect one’s own life. Giving children the power to make decisions, appropriate for their developmental stage, will help children to learn self-discipline and acquire the confidence to make choices. Children become aware of what they can and cannot do (their own strengths) from an early age. This helps them build their own value system and understand their own limitations.

Sense of Purpose

A sense of purpose includes a belief that there is a reason for existing and that there is meaning in one’s life. Peer support specialists are good examples of having a sense of purpose. Through sharing their own recovery experiences in an effort to help their clients, they give powerful testimony to the importance of working to overcome the negative effects of behavioral health disorders and finding meaning beyond the pain. Sharing a sense of purpose also helps individuals to feel a sense of belonging and connection in the world.

Traits of Resilient People

It is important for peer support specialists to be able to recognize the traits of resilient people so that they can understand their clients’ resiliency capacity before it is tested in a difficult situation. If a client does not appear to have the qualities that are common among resilient people, the peer support specialist can help the client to identify resilience as a skill that they would like to acquire. Plans can then be made and the client can set appropriate goals about improving resilience. The peer support specialist can engage in a mentoring capacity to create opportunities to build the client’s resilience capacity.

Module 5 Reflection Activity: Resilience Reframe

Instructions: When you think about resilient people, what traits set them apart from others who are less resilient? How resilient would you say that you are? Do you think others recognize you as a resilient person? What is it about you that makes them see you as resilient or not resilient?

How easy is it for you to notice and identify resilient people? Try to be observant of what makes people resilient and point out this resilience to your clients. Think about ways that you can focus on resilience as you tell your own recovery story.

Note: This activity is for reflection only and does not need to be submitted along with your workbook. 

Now that you have reflected on your own perspective about resilience, look at some of the main characteristics that research has shown tend to be associated with resilient people. As you look at your clients see if you can determine how strongly they demonstrate each of the characteristics listed below. Look at behavior that you can observe, but also listen to what the clients say about their own experience.

  • Emotional Awareness – They understand what they’re feeling and why.
  • Perseverance – Whether they’re working toward outward goals or on inner coping strategies, they trust in the process and don’t give up.
  • Action-Orientation – They do not let emotions keep them from taking actions to move them toward their goals.
  • Internal Locus of Control –They believe that they, rather than outside forces, are in control of their own lives.
  • Optimism – They see the world as an essentially positive place, look to find the positives in most situations, and generally believe that things will be okay in the end.
  • Support – They seek and maintain positive connections with other people and value the support that is received from these relationships.
  • Sense of Humor – They’re able to laugh at life’s difficulties.
  • Perspective – They keep their emotional reactions in proportion to the positive or negative impact that a situation will have in their lives. Resilient people are able to learn from their mistakes, see obstacles as challenges, and allow adversity to make them stronger.
  • Spirituality –Individuals who feel a connection to something bigger and more powerful than the human experience have been found to have higher levels of resilience than those who do not feel such a connection.