Coaching for Resilience: An Interview with Jennifer Cisney Ellers

Coaching for Resilience: An Interview with Jennifer Cisney Ellers


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Elizabeth: Jennifer what’s your journey? Can you give a little background about yourself and how you got involved in life coaching?


annie-spratt-40664Jennifer: There were a few influences in my journey to adding Life Coaching to my list of skills. The biggest were two of my professional coaching colleagues who are also dear friends. The first person to encourage me to train to be a coach was Chris McCluskey. Chris was one of the first Christian counselors and AACC members to become a life coach. Chris was coaching before coaching was “cool”. He was ahead of the trend and one of the pioneers. I still refer people to Chris’s training on a regular basis. The other person who influenced my decision and who has been one of my personal mentors is former ICCA Director, Dwight Bain. Dwight convinced my that coaching was the helping profession of the future and that I should get on board. Dwight also helped me understand what type of coaching I should do and taught me a lot of what I know about being a coach. He taught me to coach what I know – using my personal and professional background and experience for a platform.


Elizabeth: How would you define resilience?


Jennifer: The textbook definition is the ability of an individual, group or entire population to “bounce back” or recover after a particularly difficult or challenging incident or event. But I personally define resilience as a test of our ability to surrender and adapt to God’s plan. Everyone faces times when we face difficult circumstances or things we did not want or plan for. The ability to trust God in those times and move forward in spite of pain, disappointment and grief really test our faith.   But trusting God in those times is what resilience is all about.


Elizabeth: How can a coach help clients build resilience (mentally, spiritually, etc.)?


Jennifer: It is important for a coach to be familiar with the research on resiliene and to understand the factors that build it. Resilience is like acquired immunity and much of it starts in our early years. I recommend Dr. George Everly’s book, “The Resilient Child” to really understand that. Then for coaches, it is about fostering people’s natural resilience. Most people have the resources and strength needed to bounce back from even horrific events, they just need someone to help them see the path and to believe in them. Coaches can help people see how resilient they really are and how to tap into that. The challenge can be when you are working with people who have not built up a natural resilience. You can still help people acquire higher levels of resilience, but it is not a quick and easy thing to do.   Often, people who have low levels of natural resilience will need to work with a mental health professional instead of a coach to begin to heal some of the deep wounds that can then allow formation of a more resilient self. They may also need to change they way they think and see the world. Some of that can be supported by a coach, but some of the more core issues may need help from a counselor. Coaches should have good assessment skills and know when to refer if the issues are more significant than a coaching relationship can provide.


Elizabeth: What are some ways coaches can develop resilience in their own lives?


Jennifer: That is a critical question. You can’t take others where you cannot go. I often break the factors of resilience into 3 main categories:


1. Faith – Without question, research shoes that a belief in something bigger than yourself (in God) and a strong spiritual faith is one of the primary factors in resilience. Coaches have to invest in their personal relationship with God and their own spiritual development. Meaning and purpose are the most important factors for long term recovery after crisis and trauma and that comes from a strong spiritual development and a deep faith.

2. Family and Friends – Social Support is also one of the primary factors in resilience. We have to have people in our lives that are there for us and love us unconditionally. We need people we trust and can count on to be there through tough times. It is critical to invest time in those relationships.

3. Fitness – That includes both physical and mental health. I think we all understand that a person who is in great shape physically can heal from injury and illness more effectively. The same is true of mental health. Those who have invested in creating strong mental health will be able to recovery more quickly. We can also forget that the mind and body are closely connected so mental and physical health are all part of overall wellness.   It is important for coaches to practice good self-care. That includes good sleep, nutrition and physical fitness. But one of the most important factors in resilience for all people is stress management. High stress levels compromise both our physical and mental immunity and therefore, lower our resistance and resilience. I think stress is the biggest enemy of resilience today for both coaches and their clients.


Elizabeth: Can you share a favorite resource, coaching exercise, or Scripture that would foster resilience?


Jennifer: The Institute for Compassionate Care is launching a youtube channel that will be resources for hope. Mostly, it will be stories of people who have experienced trauma, terrible loss or great suffering, but God has brought them out on the other side even stronger. The channel LiveLifeVideo and you can link to it from our website at But I also want to add a scripture that has helped me personally, Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.


This reminds me that no matter what is happening, I can trust that it is somehow a part of God’s plan and I can trust Him.


Elizabeth: Tell us about The Institute of Compassionate Care. How have you seen resilience be essential in that work – for both your response teams and the individuals/families you serve?  


alex-wigan-16999Jennifer: All that we do involves helping people tap into their natural resilience and to help build resilience in individuals, couples, families and systems like businesses and churches. Anytime there is a crisis event, a natural disaster or a death, we can’t change the fact that something terrible has happened. Our role is to show people they are not alone and to come alongside them in their journey toward recovery and healing. The coming alongside involves helping people understand what resilience is and how to access that. It also means believing that God created us to be resilient.


Elizabeth: Can you share a story of resilience from your own life or from working with a client? How have you seen God move?


Jennifer: I see God work in my clients’ lives all the time but believe it is important to share our own stories. In 2003, I went through an incredibly difficult time. I became very physically sick and was experiencing some pretty bad compassion fatigue and burnout. I was not taking care of my own wellness. I had suffered from migraine headaches during my adult life and during a period in 2003, I had a migraine every day for 6 months. I ended up taking a medical leave from work and being treated in a hospital in Michigan. Thankfully, God and a wonderful treatment team helped me get back on my feet. But it required significant changes in my life and work and how I managed my own life. I had to learn the importance of caring for myself physically, emotionally, relationally an spiritually. I also had to learn that my value and worth to God are not based in what I do, but who I am. The things I learned during that crisis time in my life helped me tap into my own resilience and embrace a new walk with God that has helped me get through painful and challenging things since. By the way – I had a wonderful Christian counselor who helped in the early part of my recovery and a great life coach who helped me grow my life and career after my recovery. Having great helping relationships always makes us better and stronger.



Elizabeth Hixson holds an M.A. in Strategic Communication and a B.S. in Psychology: Life Coaching from Liberty University. She spends her days fostering career discovery and development in the students of Liberty University where she works as a career counselor. Elizabeth is passionate about using life coaching to come alongside individuals in areas of spiritual growth, seeing dreams fulfilled, and overcoming the fear of public speaking to help move them forward to victory. Her life mission is to “Help people see Christ’s victory” in their lives. Since August 2016, Elizabeth has served as the writer and editor for the International Christian Coaching Association’s (ICCA) monthly eNews publication. Elizabeth is a follower and lover of Jesus Christ, who enjoys time with family, fall weather, encouraging a heart, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Elizabeth can be contacted at


cisney_jennifer1Jennifer Cisney Ellers, M.A., is a Professional Counselor, life coach, crisis response trainer, author and speaker. She conducts training, counseling and coaching in the field of grief, crisis and trauma through the Institute for Compassionate Care. Jennifer is an approved instructor for the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, teaching several CISM courses. Also, Jennifer provides divorce coaching, training and speaking through Emerge Victorious, a ministry for women rebuilding their lives after divorce. She is the co-author of The First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First Responders, with her husband, Dr. Kevin Ellers. In addition, Jennifer co-authored Emerge Victorious: A Woman’s Transformational Guide After Her Divorce with Sandra Dopf Lee.