andy dufresne -the shawshank redemption:


the ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry

CBT from Wise Therapy author Tim LeBon is available now in  Central London and using Skype

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is particularly suited  if you are suffering from stress, depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. CBT can also boost resilience. CBT  is an evidence-based approach that can also help with panic attacks, feeling worried, decision-paralysis and low self-confidence.  If you have been diagnosed with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder),  social anxiety (or social phobia) or GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) then  CBT is also the NICE recommended treatment.

Find out about how to get  a consultation today.

What is resilience?

The dictionary defines resilience as "the ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry". Resilience is about bouncing back from adversities.

Examples of Resilient People

The photo above is of Andy Dufresne, the hero of the Shawshank Redemption.
Real-life examples include: Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller and Viktor Frankl.
These examples suggest connections between resilience and other qualities such as courage, hope and optimism. 


How to increase resilience

 Cognitive psychologists Reivich and Shatte have proposed seven steps to increase resilience in their book The Resilience Factor.
The steps are:-


1.  Learning your ABCs

The main point is that whilst many people have an “AC” model, “ABC” Is usually nearer the truth. It isn’t just the case that an adversity will lead to damaging emotions and behaviour. Its your beliefs about the adversity and how to react it that also affect how you deal with it. This step of resilience involves learning about this model, and seeing how it applies to your own adversities and behaviour

An example of the “ABC” model is as follows:

 A =Adversity

Kate does not say hello to Oliver as she passes him in the corridor

B – Belief

-          inferences  Oliver infers that Kate doesn’t like him

-          evaluation  Oliver fancies Kate so thinks this is terrible


C – Consequences

-          emotional consequences  Oliver is upset for the rest of the day

-          behavioural consequences Oliver does not ask Kate out as he planned to.

 Give your own example, from your own life, of an A, B, C.

A – Adversity

B  - Beliefs

C- Consequences

-emotional and behavioural

2. “Avoiding Thinking Traps”.


The key idea here is that just as you can increase resilience by learning about how negative emotions arise (skill 1) you can also do so by learning about how common thinking traps can lead to false or unrealistic beliefs.


The thinking traps have been researched and developed by cognitive psychologists and cognitive psychotherapists. You can see a list of such traps and their explanations at the following site:


3. Detecting Icebergs


Icebergs are also known as “core beliefs”  - they are the deeply help beliefs which can cause very powerful, but not always helpful, emotional  and behavioural consequences. In The Resilience Factor the authors suggest that it is helpful to consider three areas where such icebergs may exist:- achievement, acceptance and control.  You can read more about how to detect these “icebergs” at the following site:



4. Challenging beliefs

This skill involves challenging the causal  beliefs that can turn adversities into seriously negative behavioural and emotional consequences.  You could do this by reversing the specific thinking traps of overgeneralising, personalising and externalising   You could also see this in terms of developing a realistic explanatory style  - not believing that adversities are entirely caused by oneself but neither blaming others when this is not correct.


5. Putting it into Perspective

Putting it into perspective also challenges beliefs; now you challenge unrealistic “what-next” beliefs about the implications of adversities. This addresses the following thinking traps :-

  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Tunnel vision (not noticing or discounting positive aspects of a situation)
  • Magnifying and minimising
  • Mind reading

The Resilience Factor  recommends that, having analysed the A-B-C of an adversity, you examine the best-, worst- and most-likely case scenarios and then problem-solve the most likely


6. Calming and Focussing

This step brings together a number of techniques to deal directly with distress. The techniques advocated


  • controlled breathing,
  •   progressive muscle relaxation 
  •        positive imagery
  •        focussing techniques to combat negative intrusive thoughts


You can read more about these at the following urls:

Controlled breathing:-


Progressive muscle relaxation


Positive imagery


7. Real-time Resilience

This skill is about putting skills 4 and 5  into practice at the time they are needed. You challenge beliefs and put things into perspective before you experience the negative emotional and behavioural consequences.  Reivich and Shatte  argue that this is often superior to skill 6 (calming and focussing) because it addresses the beliefs behind the negative consequences and so can be expected to have a more lasting impact, rather than just calming someone down for a few minutes. It is also superior to steps 4 and 5, since it happens in the moment the adversity is detected.

Example of how to increase resilience

The following example will help you understand each of the 7 resilience skills and how they fit together.

Sarah goes into work one day and unexpectedly gets a phone-call from personnel.  She is told that she is to be made redundant. This is exactly the sort of event  that could lead to being upset and concerned about one’s future and in extreme cases could contribute to anxiety and depression. If she has learnt about resilience, then here is how each of the 7 steps may help her avoid these damaging consequences.

Step 1 – Learning her ABCs

Sarah will know that  events in themselves won’t necessarily lead to bad consequences – it depends on her beliefs.


Step 2 – Avoid thinking traps

Sarah will be on the look-out for thinking traps that may affect here – for example magnifying the event (“It’s a disaster – I’ll never work again”) and mind-reading (“Everyone will think I’m useless”).


Step 3 – Detecting icebergs

If Sarah has a disproportionate reaction – for example she  doesn’t tell anyone she’s been made redundant or doesn’t do anything about job-seeking – then she might suspect that it has touched on an “iceberg” a deeply-held belief about herself or the world. For example if Sarah believes that achievement is critical to her well-being, then being made redundant may well hit her particularly hard.

Step 4 – Challenging beliefs

Now Sarah starts to challenge and change any one of the less resilient reactions she might otherwise have adopted.  For example, if the next day she is sitting at home thinking “this is all my fault” then she would ask herself whether it was all to do with her, and might be more to do with the state of the economy, or the fact that she was the most recent recruit and the company adopts a “last in first out policy).


Step 5 – Putting it into perspective

Sarah will also challenge any catastrophising she has been doing. What is the most likely outcome of her redundancy? Maybe she will actually get a better job. Maybe she can do a job she enjoys more. There’s no reason to think that she will be out of a job for months – this is merely a worst case.


Step 6 – Calming and Focussing

This skill would have been particularly useful when she was told the news of her redundancy. She might have adopted controlled breathing to calm herself down when walking out of the office.

Step 7 – Real-Time Resilience

If Sarah has really mastered all the skills of resilience, then  she would be able to put them all together at the time when she was told the news. Probably when getting the phone call from personnel, she’d have an inkling that she might be being made redundant (she is realistic, not merely optimistic). She would instantly  calm herself down by thinking thoughts like “If that happens, then it may not be such a bad thing.” She’d already be planning her next job and be in a position to negotiate with personell so that she leaves on the best terms.

Evaluating  The Resilience Factor

Critics might suggest that this is just re-packed cognitive behavioural therapy. Worse, they might suggest that whereas CBT systematically
uses the thinking traps and iceberg detecting during the stage changes, Reivich and Shatte introduce otherconcepts (explanatory style and best and worst-case scenarios). Finally, why do they name the benefit of following such a programme as "resilience?". Why not "emotional intelligence" or "psychological  well-being", for example?
On the other hand the book does the world a service in placing CBT firmly in the life coaching and personal development domain. Its something for everyone, not just those suffering from depression or anxiety. Prevention is better than cure. Moreover, in advocating realism rather than optimism, it is definitely a step forward from simple positive thinking.
The book doesn't entirely satisfy intellectually - did Dan Goleman really test kids in the Marshmallow test as the book suggests on page 49? - I thought it was Walter Mischel). However, if you are looking for a self-help book that provides a good-ish introductin to CBT for personald development - and of course an introduction to resilience - then it may be the book for you.

 External Resources

Free excerpt from The Resilience Factor 

Free Resilience Quiz from The Resilience Factor

Article on psychological resilience

The Resilience Factor-  Reivich and Shatte's self-help book on resilience, available to buy from

                                                    Get more free resources on personal development  and psychotherapy at