Q: The family I'm seeing is obsessed with what's "wrong" with their misbehaving child, and want me to make him stop doing what bothers them. As a strength-based systems therapist, what do you recommend I do to help them tap into their own resilience?
A: Contrary to popular opinion, resilience isn't so much something innate to an individual as a process nurtured by human relationship. People who tell inspiring stories about overcoming loss or trauma often describe a vital relationship that gave them the emotional strength to get through hard times. Statements like "My Mom always believed in me" or "My English teacher thought I was smart when no one else did" are signposts of systemic resilience passed on to an individual. Likewise, successful families often have examples of resilience—stories of obstacles faced and conquered together—woven through the family narrative.
However, sometimes even strong, resilient families can feel their core strength threatened by problems, or more particularly, by a "problem person" in the family. At these times, the "bad behavior" of the "difficult person" becomes the focus of the story, and the family stops being interested in solving the problem together and just wants the therapist to take its resolution out of their hands.
This can create a dilemma for a strength-based approach to therapy. Your inclination is to help family members draw on their resilience and competence to find their own solutions to the problems. But if you begin pushing self-help ideas too soon, without establishing a relationship and building the kind of context in which resilience can naturally emerge, your clients may feel that you aren't listening to them, don't understand their situation, and are offering simplistic solutions that have no possibility of succeeding.