Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. Learning to become more resilient can offer individuals the opportunity to improve their life, maximizing potential and success.

As Diane Coutu so eloquently explains in How Resilience Works:

“Resilient people possess thee characteristics — a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three. Resilient people face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not.”

Although this intriguing study’s purpose was observing why some people are more successful and resilient at business while others struggled, the same principle may apply to those who struggle with substance abuse. This may help explain why some people need a longer recovery time in rehab while others do not; they might be more resilient.

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman, drawing on insights from a U.S. Army program that helps soldiers bounce back after trauma, teaches students to think positively about setbacks so they do not learn helplessness. This encourages resilience by creating an environment in which both setbacks and successes as positive learning experiences.

Clearly, resilience is desirable and yet all of us experience fluctuations in resilience throughout our lifetimes. Some people develop little resilience. Others are quite resilient but do not recognize it; they may avoid challenges they could easily surmount. Sometimes, multiple stressors and challenges wear down resilience.

Your brain wants to find solutions and routines that have succeeded in the past and allow you to repeat those actions again in the future without having to think about them explicitly. This is how many habits gradually develop, often with little notice. This can result in denial when a bad habit is brought to an addict’s attention, such as long-term prescription painkiller use, for example.

Unfortunately, the brain mechanisms that develop habits cannot simply learn not to do something. Negative goals are doomed to fail because they do not create a desirable set of habits, so the alternative is to set positive goals and habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in addiction recovery helps change negative habits by replacing them with new ones. A key to successful behavior change is to make the new behavior something that you will do consistently in that particular situation, so that the new behavior becomes associated with that setting.

CBT approaches have had a high degree of success in the treatment of a variety of difficulties ranging from depression and anxiety disorders to chronic pain and sleep disorders. Strengths-Based CBT is a four-step approach to building positive qualities to develop resilience and influence recovery.

  1. Therapists help patients identify existing strengths to construct a personal model of resilience.
  2. Patient-generated imagery and metaphors are particularly potent to help the patient remember and creatively employ new positive qualities.
  3. Behavioral experiments are designed in which the goal is to stay resilient rather than to achieve problem resolution.
  4. Therapists use constructive therapy methods and interview practices including increased use of smiling and silence.

Strengths-Based CBT provides a helpful adjunct for those individuals who report or show evidence of not being resilient. It is used with many patients to enhance relapse management planning towards the end of addiction treatment by constructing a personal model of resilience for use post-treatment.

Everyone requires a personalized treatment plan because of his or her unique resilience to recovery, and therefore the need for professional evaluation and guidance throughout the process. Long-term recovery is possible with the necessary effort.