Apr 12

Resilience: How to Cultivate This Trait

When we began our study, we assumed that resilience was rare and resilient people were somehow special, perhaps genetically gifted. It turns out, we were wrong. Resilience is common and can be witnessed all around us. Even better, we learned that everyone can learn and train to be more resilient. The key involves knowing how to harness stress and use it to our advantage. After all, stress is necessary for growth. Without it the mind and body weaken and atrophy. Steven M. Southwick, psychiatrist, in The Huffington Post

Trauma experts Steven M. Southwick and Dr. Dennis S. Charney, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, are the brains behind Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. In other words: how to bend, not break.

The authors conducted their own research, reviewed other related research, and interviewed many survivors of severe trauma. From this they came up with 10 factors that help people recover most effectively:

  •  Optimism
  •  Flexibility
  •  Core value system
  •  Faith
  •  Positive role models
  •  Social support
  •  Physical fitness
  •  Cognitive strength
  •  Facing fears
  •  Finding meaning in struggles

Southwick states that a couple of these—social support and optimism—are particularly powerful.

In an interview in Time, Southwick says of the former: “It looks like social isolation has as powerful an effect on longevity as smoking and [heavy drinking] and lack of exercise. It’s very bad for you. There’s lots of neat connections between social connectedness and ability to handle stress.”

And of the latter, states Charney: “It’s important to note that it’s realistic optimism we’re talking about. You need to have a very clear eyed view of the challenges you’re facing.”

Another resource is Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success by David B. Feldman, a psychologist, and Lee Daniel Kravetz.

Amazingly, even in midst of trauma, people continue to smile, to love, to celebrate, to create, and to renew. In making this observation, we absolutely do not mean to belittle the impact of traumatic times or the suffering many have endured and continue to endure. Suffering is real, but resilience is also real. It is an incredible and encouraging fact about human nature that, contrary to popular belief, after a period of emotional turmoil, most trauma survivors eventually recover and return to their lives. They bounce back.

As defined by the authors, supersurvivors “are those rare individuals who, in the aftermath of great tragedy and turmoil, reassess their priorities, redirect their focus, and accomplish extraordinary feats—they break records, win awards, and meet the seemingly unattainable goals they set for themselves.”

According to the publisher, this book will help readers “discover why certain delusions can be healthy, why forgiveness is good for the body, and why reflecting on death can lead to a better life. And, perhaps counterintuitively, we learn how positive thinking is not always a strategy toward the good.”

What are the five factors that most serve to help trauma survivors experience post-traumatic growth?

  • hope
  • personal control
  • social support
  • forgiveness
  • spirituality

Note that hope and social support are also highlighted by Charney and Southwick.

Some reviews have emphasized that whereas this book may be short on analysis, it’s long on true-life inspiration. Kirkus Reviews: Supersurvivors is(h)ope for the endurance of the human spirit in the face of tragedy. Artfully described…intensely powerful…riveting…uplifting.”

Apr 25

“Kimmy Schmidt” Season Two: Let the Therapy Begin

 When you see the world through her eyes, it doesn’t seem particularly better — but you believe it can be. Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire, about Kimmy Schmidt

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) now has a second season in which it and she continue to shine. Not only that, in the later episodes therapy and therapists are now a significant part of the zany mix.

But first, the trailer:

If you haven’t yet finished watching the season you may wish to skip the possible spoilers ahead. 

It’s in Episode 9 that this Kimmy Schmidt season hitsPeak Weird,” states Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture. This is in large part due to Tina Fey‘s entrance as “Drunk Andrea,” Kimmy’s slurry-talking ill-behaving advice-giving Uber customer who, as it turns out, by day is a seemingly sober and successful therapist.

As Lauren Le Vine, Refinery29, points outeven a way-too-inebriated backseat Dr. Andrea Brayden can readily see that Kimmy’s got big issues she’s never addressed. What Kimmy needs is therapy, the actual kind versus the drunk kind.

Although Kimmy’s first impulse is to resist, she then experiences a dissociative fugue that scares her into wanting to be “therapized.”

Unfortunately, when [Kimmy] goes to Andrea’s office, Andrea also has no memory of what happened the night before. She, too, compartmentalizes her experiences so that she can be a very successful psychiatrist by day and a drunk by night. She says she can’t see Kimmy as a patient, because Kimmy knows the nighttime version of Andrea. Kimmy figures out how she can become one of Andrea’s patients, though. She records her during a drunken rant and uses it as blackmail…

When the usually happy-go-lucky Kimmy Schmidt officially begins therapy in Episode 10, she learns it’s actually okay to be angry. (Drunk) Andrea takes this further, recommending out of the blue that Kimmy work on her repressed anger with her mother (whom Kimmy hasn’t seen since she was kidnapped).

That cut-to-the-chase feedback is one of the major differences between drunk and not-drunk therapy. As the EW recap notes, “Daytime Andrea maintains that therapy is an ongoing process, but Nighttime Andrea asserts ‘actually, it’s always the parents’.”

Meanwhile, Andrea’s not the only game in town. Episode 11 brings Jeff Goldblum as “Dr. Dave,” a TV talk show shrink who’s gotten Cyndee, one of Kimmy’s bunkermates, into his clutches. Part of Kimmy’s mission is to undo his strong effect on her. Mariella Mosthof, Romper:

The character of Dr. Dave is a spot-on satire of talk shows that air out the sordid circumstances of people’s lives for TV audiences. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t actually care about his ‘patients,’ considering he interrupts them to pivot to a sponsor mention whenever he can manage it. He’s not even a real psychologist — Dr. Dave admits that he merely went to pharmacy school (which is a feat on its own). His elaborately staged ‘exposure therapies’ in front of a live studio audience are clearly more for spectacle than for the good of a guest…

By Episode 12 Dr. Andrea is a day-drinking therapist, and Kimmy, afraid of losing her to rehab, tries to provide the needed assistance instead. “Kimmy’s inability to help Andrea with her problems actually proves to be a teachable moment,” says Le Vine. “Kimmy’s therapist tells her that she doesn’t need to help everyone; she should focus on helping herself.”

More-Drunk Andrea, you see, still has the ability to say stock therapist things (and be darn proud of it). She repeatedly emphasizes, for instance, some needed reassurance that it’s not Kimmy’s fault that people like her mom have abandoned her.

This insight carries Kimmy Schmidt into the 13th episode (final) that involves finding and confronting Mom (Lisa Kudrow) and accepting some harsh realities—just as you now have to accept that my over-sharing stops here. I mean, it is the cliffhanger, you know.

Will drunk therapy prove effective in the long run? Perhaps—in Sitcomville, that is.