Martin Seligman founded Positive Psychology after he found studying learned helplessness to be kind of a drag (Learned Optimism, 2006). Most of the mental and behavioral health field operates by identifying some sort of deficit or symptom to relieve. Positive Psychology seeks to help people elevate themselves to a higher level of functioning. It’s not considered to be a substitute for traditional mental health, but has been found to be helpful to many, particularly in the area of resilience. One great example of trauma resilience was a program conducted with the U.S. Army.
The Master Resilience training was implemented with thousands of soldiers who were assessed before and after deployment both by self-report and a diagnostic outcome (depression, anxiety or PTSD, alcohol or substance abuse). The most recent evaluation, published in April 2013, included more than 7,000 soldiers who participated in the training prior to deployment reported (after deployment). They reported feeling more resilient to anxiety, depression and trauma, and they were less likely to be diagnosed with one of the mental health or abuse diagnoses.
What was this training like? Surprisingly short!
It only took 10 days to train Master Resilience Trainers, soldiers who could take the information to the other soldiers in their unit. The first part was an introduction. The second portion was derived from cognitive behavioral therapy and sought to help soldiers identify unhelpful beliefs or thought distortions that can disrupt their mood or make it difficult to cope with challenges. Soldiers also learned some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises. In the third module, soldiers took an assessment to learn their key character strengths and learn how to use those both domestically and during deployment. The fourth module provided information on interpersonal and relationship skills, including types of communication style, active listening and ways to affirm others.
Empirical studies in this field are relatively new, but it’s encouraging to find that resilience can be learned to help one deal with future stressors. The website, Authentic Happiness is an awesome resource with a ton of assessments. It’s best used as a compliment to the book of the same name, but some of the tests are useful either way.
One of my favorite tests is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. It’s 240 questions, and for most people it takes less than half an hour—it’s meant to be an instinctual “this or that” type quiz. What’s cool is that at the end, you get a list of all 24 character strengths in the order that you endorsed them. Like most people, I’m the kind of person that wanted to have the maximum number of strengths, so it’s nice that none are excluded. If you take it on the VIA website, then there is a 120 question version and you can purchase an in-depth analysis to learn more about your strengths and how they can help you grow.
Have fun with the test and see what your character strengths are and then brainstorm ways to use them more often!