Eight Tips to Foster Resilience in Clients

Eight Tips to Foster Resilience in Clients


Lisa Murray, M.A.


Growing up, my mother always told me that life wasn’t fair.  Aside from the truth that Jesus loves me, this may have been one of her greatest gifts to me.


It seems that so much energy is wasted trying to make every aspect of every moment “fair” for our children that we never teach them how to become resilient human beings, to develop an internal reservoir of strength and determination that will enable them to overcome the inevitable obstacles that life will bring.


Resilience is a quality that helps individuals not only manage stress in their lives, but motivates and energizes them toward achieving their goals and living their dreams.  The APA defines resilience as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”1 Stress can be detrimental to a person’s health in a number of ways.2 Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from difficult experiences.


Children who are taught that life “should” be fair grow up to struggle as adults.  Instead of feeling competent to focus on their strengths or their goals, they experience increasing powerlessness in their ability to achieve their hopes and dreams in life.  What’s more, many often shy away from the discomfort that results from facing difficult tasks and fail to grow a strong sense of self.  Instead, much of their excitement about the future is replaced with anxious uncertainty.  No wonder diagnoses of chronic depression and anxiety continue to rise.


Therapists can help empower our clients to challenge some of the assumptions of their lives so they can change the course of their lives.  We can work with them to foster resilience that will allow them to become motivated to accomplish their goals and create the life they desire.


There are eight ways we can work with our clients to foster resilience in them.


  1. Teach them to nurture themselves. Developing the practice of nurturing ourselves can keep our mind and body not only calm, but prepare us to deal with whatever situations come our way. We can teach our clients the importance of self-nurture so that they can learn how to have time to disconnect from the demands of life and quiet themselves.  The more they can learn to care for themselves well, create space to connect with their emotions and sort through their day, the greater their ability to meet the demands of day-to-day life.


  1. Encourage them to cultivate a positive view of themselves. This does not mean encouraging our clients to create an unrealistic, distorted view of themselves. Teaching clients how to adopt an honest, balanced, yet compassionate view of themselves and their lives allows them to nurture confidence in their abilities. It equips them to solve problems as well as to trust their instincts, thereby cultivating greater resilience.  When clients believe in their ability to overcome, to work through issues, and to figure things out they won’t need to look to others to rescue them, nor will they feel unable to rescue themselves.


  1. Help them learn to keep things in perspective. Even when facing challenges or painful situations, helping clients view them within the broader context of their life and faith can ensure they avoid blowing the event out of proportion and instead, keep their focus on what they can control.  Developing the ability to see the big picture is significant.  When every problem seems catastrophic, life begins to feel overwhelming and outside of their control.  Eventually, they simply give up.


  1. Show them how to maintain a hopeful outlook. Having hope can change everything in life.  Hope enables clients to believe that good things will happen in their lives, that God is at work, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Resilient individuals are better able to look beyond the immediate circumstances to discover the potential meaning or purpose in them.  Therapists can help their clients by encouraging them to nurture their faith, to create a deep and meaningful relationship with God that will yield strength, hope, and resilience in the most trying of times.


  1. Model for them the importance of building relationships. Relationships with close family members, friends or others can be vital in enhancing a resilient spirit. While everyone needs downtime, humans were created for connection.  Watch for client isolation and encourage community.  Accepting help and support from those who care about them and will listen to them ultimately strengthens internal resources.  Learning to serve others develops their ability to see outside of themselves and nurtures empathy and compassion for others.


  1. Help them accept that change is a part of living.  Certain goals may not always be attainable as a result of adverse situations.  We all have limitations.  We all have roadblocks, fair or otherwise.  Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help clients focus on steps they can alter, on goals they can achieve.  Focusing on fairness saps individual’s energy that may be more effective in looking for flexible alternatives.


  1. Empower them to move toward their goals. When life seems unfair and clients feel both helpless and hopeless, many individuals give up and get stuck.  When faced with challenges it can be easy to detach and wish them away.  Instead, we can encourage clients to begin taking steps along the way.  Even small steps can help prevent clients from feeling stuck and can build forward momentum toward achieving their goals.


  1. Nurture a mind-set of self-discovery. Clients often learn something more about themselves as a result of their struggles. We can use the therapy process to encourage a mindset of ongoing self-discovery.  Those who have endured great hardship often develop a greater sense of strength and vulnerability, an increased sense of self-worth, as well as a more dynamic faith and heightened appreciation for life.


Letting go of the fairness trap allows our clients to grow a resilient, indomitable spirit.


Our clients don’t need life to be fair.  What they need most is to become strong enough and resilient enough to face whatever challenges come their way and be able to move forward productively, abundantly, to cultivate a life of hope and most certainly, a life of peace.


1American Psychological Association. (2015). What is resilience? Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-resilience/
2American Psychological Association (2013). How stress affects your health. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx


Lisa Murray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Franklin, TN, with an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a graduate degree from Trevecca University.  In 2007 Lisa founded the Counseling and Family Ministries at Grace Chapel in Leipers Fork, TN, where she not only works to help individuals, couples, and families, deal with the complexities and challenges of life and relationships, she also treats a full spectrum of mental health issues.