Resilience potentially exists within all of us. Focus upon resilience factors often means focusing upon our strengths instead of weaknesses in a way that helps us to anticipate problems and cope better with them when they happen. It's a concept currently growing in popularity as it holds promise for the prevention of psychological problems, such as depression, at a collective level. Michael Neenan's new book Developing Resilience: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach provides a detailed overview and guide to the subject of resilience from an evidence-based perspective.
Neenan and Prof. Windy Dryden have provided a very thorough definition of "resilience", which begins, "Resilience comprises a set of flexible cognitive, behavioural and emotional responses to acute or chronic adversities which can be unusual or commonplace. These responses can be learned and are within the grasp of everyone; resilience is not a rare quality given to a chosen few. While many factors affect the development of resilience, the most important one is the attitude you adopt to deal with adversity. Therefore attitude (meaning) is the heart of resilience."
This is a very enjoyable and easy book to read. It's erudite, academically-informed, and draws upon a wealth of research-based knowledge and clinical experience but is written and laid out in a very accessible "self-help" style. It manages to be one of those books that will appeal both to therapists and their clients and I will no doubt be recommending it to psychotherapy clients, for whom "Developing Resilience" is often a very attractive concept. It's also well-suited for coaching work, where, rather than psychopathology, the focus is mainly on strengths and coping with "everyday hassles."
My own special area is classical philosophy and psychotherapy. According to Neenan "Attitude is the heart of resilience", which accords with the classical Greek and Roman Stoicism in its emphasis upon adopting a "philosophical" attitude toward adversity. Epictetus famously told his students, "People are not upset by events but rather their judgements about things", which Neenan calls "the foundation of a resilient outlook." It's the basis of the modern "cognitive model" of emotional disturbance. Neenan tackles the common misconception that Stoicism means "suppression of emotion" at the start of the book and emphasises that the ancient Stoics merely recommended that unhealthy irrational emotions should be replaced by more healthy and adaptive ones.
Neenan also says, "Distinguish between what is within and outside your control", echoing the famous Serenity Prayer. The central principle of Stoicism, with which the famous Handbook (Enchiridion) of Epictetus opens, was precisely the distinction between that which is within our control and that which is not. In the final analysis, Neenan and Epictetus point out, our judgements and intentions (attitudes and behaviour) are within our control more than external events and other people's responses, etc., over which "fortune", i.e., other factors, may intervene.
Neenan provides many real-life examples of resilience, most notably the story of Vice-Admiral James Stockdale, who said to himself "I'm now leaving my world and entering the world of Epictetus!" as he ejected from his crippled fighter plane over enemy territory at the outbreak of the Vietnam War. Stockdale was incarcerated and tortured for seven years by the North Vietnamese, during which time he relied heavily upon the Stoic teachings of Epictetus to cope with the exceptional adversity of his circumstances. He provides the ideal "case study" for cognitive therapists interested in resilience and coping with extreme adversity.
Neenan is mainly inspired by CBT, as the title suggests, and draws upon the Stoicism of Epictetus and the examples of famous individuals like James Stockdale, Victor Frankl, Hellen Keller and Nelson Mandella, etc. He also draws upon Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), the Positive Psychology of Seligman and others, research on Problem-Solving Therapy (PST), and other therapeutic approaches.
The chapters are entitled,
1. What is resilience? 2. Attitude: the heart of resilience 3. Attitudes that undermine resilience building 4. Making yourself more resilient 5. Strengths underpinning resilience 6. Resilience in the workplace 7. Resilience in relationships 8. Resilience in dealing with difficult people 9. Maintaining resilience 10. An overview of resilience
We could all do with increasing our resilience. Especially with so many people around the world facing tough times financially and in terms of their employment. This happens to be a concept that has recently "come of age" and this book is probably the best place to begin learning what modern psychology and cognitive therapy have to teach us about coping with adversity or just the everyday problems of living that we all face on an ongoing basis. Highly recommended.
In 2007 I was attending the London conference of ISMA, The International Stress Management Association, where I listened to a session on resilience given by Michael Neenan. It struck me as a very important subject in that resilience and bulding it, is the flip side of dealing with stress after things happen. That's why I'm very glad to finally see and read the book by Michael Neenan on this subject Developing Resilience
Why should you buy and read this book? Because...
* It's well structured, hence easy to locate the areas you need to read; the subject index and chapters headings are helpful.
* The text is readable and accessible to both professionals working in coaching or therapy, and also the general lay reader.
* Contains the fruits and reflections of over 20 years practise in stress management and resilience building with clients. To my mind there's an interesting parallel here with the classic Dale Carnegie book How To Win Friends And Influence People in that like Carnegie, Neenan has obviously read widely on the subject, see the references section, to distill the insights and wisdom of others into this book. Given that the world is full of books, and we can't possibly read them all, this is a good aspect.
* Case studies, dialog with clients suitably anonymised, are included. While these may not fit exactly the readers issues and situations; they are helpful to illustrate the points discussed.
* The Author admits early on in the book that this is not a textbook of exercises and tips as such. So unlike some books, you will not find checklists and charts to complete. Having said that, there is plenty of material to refect on and then figure out how to practically apply the points to yourself. Taking action is one of the key themes in the book.
* Two points of more "sadness" than reservations.
Given the current hard times we are all in - personal and business- a book like this deserves to be on the business best seller lists. But given negative attitudes towards stress in general, are we ready to make this happen?
It does not deserve to be categorised as merely another "self-help" book, purchased then mostly unread, the benefits never unlocked and realised by the purchaser. Therefore if you buy this book - and I hope that you do - "wring the lemon dry" i.e. note points, reflect, ask yourself questions, be active in the reading of it to gain the maximum benefits.
In conclusion while it may be that as the song says "The world is waiting for a sunrise"; this book is here, so wait no more, go buy and read!
What an incredibly helpful book and what clear, precise prose.
I won't repeat the excellent points made by other reviewers, but will add that this book is - clear and concise - addressed to the general reader - grounded in an academically rigorous approach - full of a-ha moments
Unusually for me I found myself taking notes which I still refer back to quite regularly.
What I particularly valued about this book was the precise and clear way it pins down the factors that support or undermine resilience.
Michael Neenan comes at CBT from the angle of resilience here. While excellent when discussing what true resilience is and giving a broad strokes guide to developing resilience, he comes up a bit short in sharing ground-level, everyday steps to actually achieve it. I came away from the book understanding exactly why I needed to develop better resilience but slightly frustrated that I wasn't quite sure how to do it.
It's perhaps best as a companion piece to other CBT-influenced work, such as Russ Harris' ACT stuff, or Steve Peters' Chimp Paradox.