Coche, Judith

Dr. Judith Coche.

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Ever ask yourself what it takes for people you know to be more resilient to their challenges? 

I found myself asking what resilience entails and how we can increase resilience, and sought the definition of the term. 

Simply stated, resilience is bounce-back, the ability to weather tough situations coupled with a refusal to cave in. Because resilience is founded in a belief in oneself, it allows you to overcome sizable odds and is a foundation of psychological wellbeing. 

The Wolins, a mental health marital team, suggests seven key strengths that comprise resilience. These are byproducts won by plodding through tough situations: 

  • Insight - asking tough questions and giving honest answers. 

  • Independence - distancing emotionally and physically from the sources of trouble in one's life. 

  • Relationships - making fulfilling connections to other people. 

  • Initiative - taking charge of problems. 

  • Creativity - using imagination and expressing oneself in art forms. 

  • Humor - finding the comic in the tragic. 

  • Morality - acting based on conscience rather than self-interest or practical considerations. 

When Ann Kerry entered psychotherapy at age 25, she had been fired from her job for being undependable in anything other than pursuing her self-interests. Ann ignored her family's advice and sought to leave home and live a life of travel.  

After two years of individual therapy work, she was ready for group therapy, an ideal means to help self-centered clients. A year in a confidential therapy group with six other members provided considerable insight. 

Clueless about the dangers of trusting strangers, Ann became involved with a friendship group dedicated to enjoying illegal substances most days after work. She quickly became so immersed in dysfunctional patterns that she fell behind in her work severely, and because she avoided the truth, she hid this problem from her therapy group and me.  

Dismayed and astonished at the depth of trouble she created for herself in a few short weeks, her therapy team and family helped her commit to taking a month away from drugs, her friendship group, and establishing herself at work. She summoned resilience skills that helped her focus, and by February, she had won her group's confidence. 

She continued her gainful employment and to fund her therapy to bolster her progress. She has matured into healthy living and the joy of her friends, including an admiring and loving girlfriend. Still in the same therapy group, her perceptiveness and quick-witted feedback for others have won her respect and affection. Ann is on her way to a successful future. 

Just after Allen arrived home Jan. 3 to celebrate the new year with family, he boarded his sturdy, old car and skidded into a tree on an ice-covered, two-lane road near home. He was killed instantly.  

In the tragedy's aftermath, I worked with his parents and brother, Jack, to help them cope with their shock and loss, and to help them help their friends and extended family with his death. 

“We simply cannot give up,” Alice said, about her future without her son. “Allen would not have permitted us to give up. He needs us to make a contribution to the world he was so excited to enter.” 

In memory of their son, Alice and her husband, Paul, decided to lend their support to underdeveloped countries. 

“Allen would be proud of the way we are handling this,” Paul said, quietly. “I bet he can see us here, working towards the goals he set for himself.”  

In fact, Allen's family now finds the resilience instilled in their son in themselves. 

Wolin defines resiliency as the capacity to rise above adversity and forge lasting strengths in the struggle. The story of Allen and his family teaches that reframing a tragedy as a life challenge 

enables even grieving parents to move forward in their lives.  

Allen's family has had to ask tough questions and provide honest answers, keeping their clarity of vision and blaming no one for his death. Their insight and courage become a springboard to constructive action, and they become a model for us all. 

To Consider: Faced with this level of tragedy, how might you have coped? How can you develop needed resilience to cope better in the future? 

To Read: Wolin, S.J. and S. Wolin, The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity (New York: Villard Books, 1993). 

ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche formerly practiced clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.

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