Resilience Education and Training
Definition of Resilience Education and Training
Gilligan (2000) describes resilience as a process which engenders a sense of strength and confidence to succeed despite individual challenges faced, and Noble and McGrath (2015, p. 79) define it as “the ability to persist, cope adaptively and bounce back after encountering change, challenges, setback, disappointments, difficult situations or adversity and to return to a reasonable level of wellbeing.” It has been suggested that these challenges can be controlled by an individual’s behaviors, thoughts, and actions which can be taught (American Psychological Association 2014). However, Wu et al. (2013) argue that developing resilience in individuals requires several “factors” not least, an understanding of the genetic, epigenetic, developmental, psychological, and neurochemical processes, as these can contribute to how an individual can cope with and develop resilience in the face of stress and trauma. In this way, resilience education and training are about building the capacities to cope with as well as adapt to changes in generative ways and include a diverse range of strategies to develop personal purpose, confidence, flexibility, and social support networks.
Notions of resilience are now popular across disciplinary and practice boundaries and at different levels including individual, organizational, community, city, and national (Southwick et al. 2014; Fletcher and Sarkar 2013; Stokes et al. 2018). In terms of the individual level, although there are different conceptions (as identified above), it can refer to a person’s capacity to “bounce back” from an adverse or extreme event or to absorb crises (Seligman 2011) and that the interpretation of such events or crises is personally and culturally located (Ungar 2011; Ungar and Liebenberg 2011). Resilience, as conceived in such ways, therefore offers the potentiality of building protective or adaptive capacities to aid people in perceiving, making sense of, and then responding to circumstances. Such capacities have been linked to a person’s experiences of anxiety, stress, depression, subjective and psychological well-being, vitality, life satisfaction, purpose, and positive emotion (Leppin et al. 2014; Robertson et al. 2015; Vanhove et al. 2016).
As such, the intentional development of individual resilience has become an increasing area of research and practice development over the last decade, partly as a response to how it can be seen to link to global issues of ill health (ibid), such as depression which can affect the lives of over 300 million people per year and suicide of which there are over 800,000 per year (WHO 2018). Similarly, persistent workplace stress can lead to depression and can account for long-term illness and absenteeism and, combined with other workplace health issues, can result in an economic loss of 4–6% of GDP in most countries (WHO 2017b). Resilience training and education, therefore, have a role across a wide range of settings, circumstances, people with particular health and well-being challenges, and age ranges. For example, resilience training has been applied and researched in the context of military personnel (Cornum et al. 2011; Seligman 2011; Carr et al. 2013), firefighters (Freedman 2004), disaster relief personnel (Skeffington et al. 2013), police officers (van der Meulen et al. 2017), teachers (Jennings et al. 2013), nurses and other medical personnel (Sood et al. 2011; Pipe et al. 2012), and children and youth (Dray et al. 2017).
This entry is structured as follows. First, it examines the diversity of resilience training and education, which includes various dimensions of difference such as whether it is targeted as a generic population or a specific population, and the variable evidence related to the efficacy of different approaches. Second, it outlines and discusses various strategies and techniques that relate to building the resilience of individuals. These are organized into four broad but key personal resources that help individuals mobilize their resilience: purpose, confidence, adaptability, and supportive social networks (Cooper et al. 2013). Third, it discusses the limitations of conceiving resilience development as an individual activity and considers wider influences on how resilience can be developed in wider organizational systems (Helfgott 2018). Fourth, it considers the consistent methodological critiques which largely challenge the confidence that can be placed in much of the empirical work surrounding resilience training and education. The final section then concludes with suggested directions for further research.
Diversity of Approaches to Resilience Education and Training
Training and education purpose – this dimension considers the type of stress that the resilience training and education program was seeking to tackle; this ranges from training people to deal with generalized, everyday stress situations, through to training people to deal with trauma-induced stress, for example, in dealing with “post-traumatic stress disorder after a major catastrophe or tragic event” (ibid, p. 3).
Training and education focus – this dimension considers whether the resilience training and education program is focused specifically on developing resilience capacities or whether it is resilience-mediated, that is, whether building resilience is a means to promote other experiences or outcomes for the participants.
Training and education design – this dimension considers for whom the resilience training and education program is designed, for a broad and diverse population of people (e.g., employees wanting to develop resilience strategies at work) or a single, specific population of people (e.g., military personnel experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder). More specifically, interventions can include one-to-one therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy, one-to-one coaching interventions, classroom-based interventions, group-based interventions, and online training programs (Smith et al. 2018).
Training and education application – this dimension considers how the resilience training and education program is applied to the population, a universal approach (e.g., throughout the year), or a targeted application (e.g., when a participant needs the intervention).
Whereas there is general agreement that resilience training and education can have effects in practice across a period of months (e.g., Leppin et al. 2014; Macedo et al. 2014; Robertson et al. 2015; Vanhove et al. 2016), there is also evidence of diminishing effects and a variability of impacts, including no impacts in addition to reportedly negative experiences (Baumeister and Alghamdi 2015; van der Meulen et al. 2017). For example, in the context of the workplace resilience training and education interventions, Robertson et al. (2015, p. 533) found enhancements to “(1) mental health and subjective well-being outcomes, (2) psychosocial outcomes, (3) physical/biological outcomes, and (4) performance outcomes... [,] mental health and subjective well-being... [and] enhanced psychosocial functioning and improved performance.” However, evidence also suggests that there were more significant effects without the diminishing effects in programs targeted at those individuals “thought to be at greater risk of experiencing stress and lacking core protective factors” (Vanhove et al. 2016, p. 278), a dynamic also observed in the resilience training and education of children and young people (Brunwasser et al. 2009). Such studies echo other evidence where the most significant gains were experienced by those starting the resilience training program with a low base level of resilience (e.g., Smith et al. 2018).
In the context of children and youth, empirical work has suggested that resilience training and education programs have shown “most promise for using universal resilience-focused interventions at least for short-term reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms for children and adolescents, particularly if a cognitive-behavioral therapy based approach is used” (Dray et al. 2017, p. 813). Yet part of the issue is being able to test or measure resilience capacity in the context in which it needs to be mobilized, and without that, it is methodologically difficult to achieve such an assessment (Macedo et al. 2014).
Overall, however, there is general agreement that due to the methodological design and execution within the literature, there is “no definitive evidence for the most effective training content or format” (Robertson et al. 2015, p. 533, also see Dray et al. 2017). At the same time, the literature also highlights the need and utility of one-to-one approaches such as coaching (Grant 2014; Robertson et al. 2015) to be able to individual circumstances, and there is indeed evidence which suggests that one-to-one approaches such as coaching are the most efficacious according to the more reliable studies found (Vanhove et al. 2016). In line with this current understanding, the next sections focus on individually focused resilience training and education approaches and techniques, organized around Cooper et al.’s (2013) personal resources for resilience model: personal purpose, personal confidence, personal flexibility, and personal social networks.
Developing Personal Purpose
One of the critical behaviors thought to underpin resilience is the notion of maintaining one’s own self-worth (Jacelon 1997). Indeed, individuals who are able to maintain a sense of hope for a bright future often do so through the persistent pursuit of their own goals and aspirations (Benard 2004; McIntosh and Shaw 2017). Cooper et al. (2013) similarly describe this as “purposefulness,” incorporating present, short-term, and future goals and values, representing one of four resilience resources identified. Within the resource of “purposefulness,” they include self-motivation, self-control, conscientiousness, meaningfulness, and optimism which they believe stem from highly critical factors including relationships with others, particularly early parental-childhood relationships and background cultural influences. However existing research does not reveal diverse sampling from a wide demographic reach. Sample sizes are small, and in particular ethnic minority groups and older people are underrepresented. Therefore it is not entirely clear how much an individual’s situation, age, gender, culture, experience, background, and upbringing might influence how resilient one is (Luthans et al. 2016; Luthar 2006).
Collectively these individual qualities are broadly described as an individual’s personality, which is thought to be less malleable and more stable than one’s psychological and cognitive process skills (Hardy et al. 2010; Fletcher and Sarkar 2016). But some researchers have adopted a different approach, often categorizing personality characteristics as outcomes or processes, in the belief that these characteristics can be changed (Cooper et al. 2013). Luthans et al. (2016) have developed a psychological capital (PsyCap) toolkit by combining the personality characteristics of hope, self-efficacy, and optimism with resilience. As such, he believes that PsyCap is a construct that can be developed as opposed to a trait, echoed in Fredrickson’s (2001) broaden and build theory based upon the development of enduring psychological resilience as a personal resource, through the experience of positive emotions and experiences.
Baumeister and Alghamdi (2015) endorse Hobfoll’s (1989) suggestion that resources are things that are valued by individuals as separate entities but particularly in their pursuit of goals, conversely making it more difficult to embed and measure outcomes of resource-based training. Fletcher and Sarkar (2016) agree that part of an individual’s natural appraisal of interventions is their evaluation and interpretation of what is occurring and how that might affect their own objectives, but goal setting which often leads to positive outcomes is often overlooked. It is therefore of critical importance that individuals adopt a self-determination approach to their own selection of behaviors, goals, and outcomes to align with personal interests, values, and requirements (Ryan and Deci 2000).
Clearly these nuances in terminology around one’s purposefulness reveal a key issue around an agreed definition of resilience resources, further compounded by the varied range of support or assessment processes available, some of which is preventative and some remedial (Robertson et al. 2015). It is therefore of critical importance that individuals have the opportunity to evaluate their existing resources to agree what comprises their own existing baseline level of purposefulness so that the best method or format for resilience interventions can be agreed (Robertson et al. 2015). As such it should be possible to tailor subsequent resilience resource-orientated training or intervention programs and incorporate further processes to support “anything perceived by the participant to help attain his or her goals,” leading to a more confident and effectual individual (Halbesleben et al. 2014, p. 1338; Fletcher and Sarkar 2016).
Developing Personal Confidence
Self-belief and confidence are thought to be core characteristics of mental toughness and portray a prevailing conviction in one’s own capacity to confront difficult tasks and perform better than one’s counterparts, influencing and achieving successful outcomes (Gist and Mitchell 1992; Brown 1996; Robertson et al. 2015). There is some evidence that both work-based educational interventions and executive coaching can develop individual’s self-confidence and self-efficacy; however by the researchers own admission, the earliest findings were based upon an unclear and dynamic construct (Gist and Mitchell 1992). Latterly findings have been self-reported, sample sizes small and not diverse (Grant et al. 2009; McDonald et al. 2012).
Confidence levels may vary depending upon situational influences, and individuals facing long periods of worry and stress find it seriously depleted (Cooper et al. 2013). For example, Muschalla (2017) has found that the workplace and its environment, people, and tasks can lead to anxiety which not only may affect individuals when going to, or at, work, but also in other settings as a result of thinking about the workplace. Cognitive anxieties such as worrying can develop into physiological arousal, unnerving individuals who may even present avoidance tactics and extensive periods of sick leave. This inability to cope with a particular situation in the workplace can severely damage an individual’s self-efficacy, a resource which is found to be a critical indicator of returning to and coping with work (Nigatu et al. 2017).
One approach is to provide individuals with information and task training, through modelling, mastery, persuasion, and feedback (Gist and Mitchell 1992). Such processes reflect other strength-based approaches including coaching to develop a growth mindset (Kinman and Grant 2010). It is difficult however to reduce and eliminate anxiety, classed as “anxiety extinction” without multiple interventions to address potentially highly complex stimuli (Weisman and Rodebaugh 2018, p. 44). Craske et al. (2014) suggest that by exposing individuals to therapeutic procedures, clinicians are able to inhibit learned anxiety; however the process requires many steps to directly target the many steps of unlearning and new learning. Here, a variable range of schedules and exposure to techniques within distinctive contexts is recommended in order to inhibit anxiety and lessen fear and the memory of that fear (Weisman and Rodebaugh 2018).
Many researchers believe that resilience is underpinned by a range of different “communities,” particularly emotional intelligence, social competencies, and support mechanisms, citing these as critical support and enhancement tools in developing resilience in individuals, but these multiple strands and concepts create issues of causality (Kossek and Perrigino 2016). But while there are a number of possible resilience development interventions that could be adapted and developed for future support, there are no sustained benefits derived from interventions that are not consistently deployed (Vanhove et al. 2016; Muschalla 2017). As resilience is something that develops gradually over time, it is critical to adopt a “broaden and build” approach, through the application of little and often multiple strategies which are likely to be more successful than singular or short-term interventions (Fredrickson 2001, p. 218; Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009).
Developing Personal Flexibility
The pressures and stressors that people experience can include a wide range of organizational features including the perceived (and actual) resources available to people, communications, work-life balance and workloads, job security and change, and relationships and job conditions (Cooper et al. 2013). In relation to this, resilience training and education at an individual level, and within the workplace, has been described as having three broad approaches: providing personal development for managers, providing developmental support for building the resilience of employees, and promoting good management practices and strategy (ibid). Although some of these might be able to be tackled by leaders and managers as “quick win interventions,” such as the provision of information by management, to address an employee’s negative pressures, they do place control of the situation outside of the individual and can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s ability to cope with and adapt to changing situations (ibid, Fletcher and Sarkar 2013).
Following systematic studies by Fletcher and Sarkar (2013) and Windle et al. (2011) of over 270 resilience research articles, it is acknowledged that there are a combination of assets and resources within the individual and their environment that enable the individual to adapt and face adversity. This work identifies some of the psychological mechanisms and contextual factors which contribute to resilience are linked, suggesting that interventions which focus on the positive personality characteristics of an individual (psychosocial resilience) should be developed. Similarly, a systematic study conducted by Helmreich et al. (2017) found that appraisal and reappraisal processes within cognitive therapy approaches enabled people to reframe and re-sense make information and experiences in new ways, with more positive affect and flexibility. Training and education which deploy processes from cognitive behavioral therapy provide individuals with the ability to have a more adaptive pattern of thought, resulting in more adaptive emotional and behavioral responses to stress. These processes can include, for example, the processes of examining and re-examining ABC (Activating, event, belief, consequences).
Muschalla (2017) similarly advocates cognitive behavioral therapy to become more flexible about specific work anxieties and recommends a work anxiety-coping group (WAG) intervention to measure the levels of coping in individuals returning to work following a period of absence due to a mental disorder. Similarly, Hayes et al. (2004) advocate interventions linked to acceptance and commitment therapy so that individuals can reduce psychological inflexibility, and Helmreich et al. (2017) suggest that individual thoughts are maladaptive and can be “trained” by challenging and teaching new problem-solving coping strategies whereas. To support this, interventions, such as mindfulness, commitment, and supporting behavior change skills, can result in an individual better adjusting to stressful situations.
Resilience training and education interventions which encourage self-assessment, particularly for managers, have been developed following a review of the research related to leadership resilience. Cooper et al. (2013) highlight the concept of personal responsibility and how an individual’s role within the organizational hierarchy can influence their level of coping. For example, when a manager associates positive challenge with responsibility in a context where they have influence over events and planning, this can result in them having a greater and actual sense of control. This is opposed to junior staff who have less responsibility but less influence over how they fulfil their responsibilities. An example of a recent approach which promotes self-assessment is reported in Tonkin et al.’s (2018) study, which examined the impact of resilience interventions to evaluate the employees’ stress-coping ability and adaptive employee behaviors. An intervention called the Wellbeing Game run by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand is connected to the five ways to well-being principles (connect, be active, keep learning, give and take notice) and became a frame for individuals to record their well-being. Tonkin et al. (2018) were not able to find conclusive support, but they did find that such approaches enabled staff to develop their capacities to self-evaluate their well-being and that senior leadership support was required.
Similarly, Malik and Gang (2017) are advocates for developing interventions which promote shared learning as a response to the rapid pace of innovation, disruption, expansion and technical advancements. They argue that there is a need for organisations and individuals to adapt to this changing environment. Their empirical work shows that affective commitment to change has been significantly linked to enhanced coping and supportive behavior during organizational change and to an individual’s experience of positive emotion (Wall et al. 2017c). In addition, evidence also suggests that delivering training and education to develop learning culture interventions can also enhance employee resilience which also impacts their commitment and ability to change (Cunningham and Swanson 2010). Here, learning from failure is another important part of building flexibility and adaptability (Cooper et al. 2013). When provided sensitively and appropriately – and when the individual has the skills in receiving and interpreting that feedback – this can aid abilities to adjust and adapt to information. Here, the affective commitment to change requires interventions which promote intrinsic benefits for the individual, for example, interventions which support participation in decision-making, fair treatment of employees, and psychological empowerment (Wall et al. 2017c).
Developing Personal Social Networks
The interaction between resilience and social networks has been recognized for some time as social contact and interaction can be a significant source of stress; good relationships with others is important for life satisfaction and emotional well-being across all age groups and cultures (Cooper et al. 2013). In order to develop this dimension of resources for resilience, training and education can focus on developing work relationships toward constructive debate and collaboration by sharing workloads and stimulating debate which fuels innovation and achievement (Malik and Garg 2017; Wall et al. 2017c). Within this context, there are three main areas of training and education that can facilitate resilience: (1) mapping social networks to identify areas of need, development, and growth especially in relation to own perceived resilience challenges, (2) responding constructively to others (including in relation to feedback, see above), and (3) balancing advocacy with inquiry (Cooper et al. 2013). Developing social networks requires employees to be able to interact with their situation at work and outside of it; therefore characteristics such as confidence and emotional stability can be useful to develop. Indeed, in the context of young people, training and education in relation to improving relationship or social skills can be more effective than interventions designed to teach skills of non-response to provocative situations (Bickerton et al. 2014). In addition, there are various diagnostic or psychometric personality tests that can inform where specific learning and development should be targeted.
In addition, there are a number of positive psychology interventions which focus on employees experiencing gratitude which has been evidenced to create deep and persistent feelings, reducing stress, and boosting resilience (Cooper et al. 2013; Tonkin et al. 2018; Kaplan et al. 2014). Positive feelings associated with connectedness and mindfulness have been described as interventions which support emotional intelligence building, developing individual competencies of self-awareness and social skills which balance advocacy with inquiry when seeking to influence or pursued others in your endeavors (Cooper et al. 2013; Wall 2016; Tran and Wall 2018 forthcoming). However, in order to obtain good relationships, training and education interventions which develop trust, intimacy, and affection will build a feeling of engagement and connectedness with other people (Cooper et al. 2013). In the same way, Helmreich et al. (2017) suggest that interventions delivered face-to-face could work better than online interventions for social support due to the direct contact between trainers and participants (Vanhove et al. 2016). Indeed, Gable (Gable et al. 2004) found that by sharing experiences, relationships become constructive, strengthened, and positive,
Limits to Resilience Education and Training: Wider Influences Affecting Resilience
Although training and education can make a significant difference to how people perceive and experience stressors in their environment, there are continuing concerns that – because of methodological issues – there is low confidence in the empirical work which examines resilience training and education programs and that some studies have a small to moderate effect at improving resilience (e.g., Leppin et al. 2014). These researchers do state however that further studies are needed which review the effect of the intervention based on its intended outcomes. A similar finding was generated by Hülsheger et al. (2015) who found a gap between person level and environmental measures and approaches. Indeed, there are wider influences on individuals which can limit the effectiveness of those interventions. For example, some wider influences can include the wider environment not encouraging involvement, consultation, or strong communications; limited or no input into planning or decision-making; poor working conditions and excessive workloads; or poor change management approaches or processes (Cooper et al. 2013). Indeed, this is partly why the consultative and positive affect approaches of appreciative inquiry have been recognized as tackling such problems in practice (Wall et al. 2017c).
Part of this issue may also reflect the complexity of what needs to be managed in the wider environment in order to facilitate or mobilize resilience when required. For example, Walker et al. (2002) suggest that stakeholders should use guidelines to make informed decisions on choosing, designing, and implementing mechanisms that help individuals adapt and be flexible when responding to crises. Such guidelines include aspects of collaboration, planning, and procedures – in addition to training and education – to help build flexibility, adjustability, and adaptability (Robertson et al. 2015; O’Sullivan et al. 2013; Desouza and Flanery 2013). In addition, however, Adini et al. (2017) found 51 concepts of resilience management guidelines that would influence resilience outcomes and which might therefore be included in the management of resilience.
To emphasize the point, Tonkin (Tonkin et al. 2018) points out that the organization is likely to be the largest determiner of a person’s ability to mobilize resilience when required. Within this context, resource scarcity, external pressures, technological advances, changes in government policy, and the general unpredictability of the changing environment can all influence the wider organizational context. To facilitate individuals to mobilize their resources in the workplace, the positive and effective leadership and management of people is a major dimension that is often not tackled (Cooper et al. 2013) and is supported by the Health 2020 development charter priority area 4 (WHO 2017) suggesting that “supportive environments can offer people protection from factors that can threaten their health, as well as enabling them to expand their capabilities and self-reliance” (p. 9).
Whereas there is “evidence pointing towards some degree of effectiveness of resilience promotion programs” (Macedo et al. 2014, p. 227), there is also general agreement that there are a number of ongoing methodological issues which limit the certainty that can be placed on findings of many studies into the impacts of resilience training and education. The first cluster of methodological critiques relates to the operationalization of the conceptual aspects of the studies. Common critiques here related to the ways in which the construct of resilience was operationalization in the studies, for example, a lack of standardization across the studies which make comparison and wider analysis problematic and sometimes a mismatch between the intent of the program, the construct(s) being adopted to deliver the intent, the instrument used to measure the intent/constructs, and/or the content/process being deployed to develop any of these (Leppin et al. 2014; Robertson et al. 2015; Dray et al. 2017) – if indeed this level of detail was actually reported at all. Indeed, given low levels of transparency of methodical procedures, the quality of reporting was often considered poor; thus the potential for empirical comparison was limited (ibid). This issue was compounded also by the high levels of heterogeneity of the sample populations which could include children, bankers, soldiers, managers, students, and physicians (Macedo et al. 2014).
More specifically, most of the studies were small scale and were faulty in relation to high risk of bias influencing the findings (Leppin et al. 2014; Dray et al. 2017). Macedo et al. (2014) and Robertson et al. (2015), for example, have both independently argued that most studies did not report decisions and procedures in relation to (1) random sequence generation (e.g., via a computer or throwing a dice), (2) allocation concealment (e.g., if the participant knows which group they are in – a treatment or control group), (3) blinding of outcome assessment (e.g., whether the assessors are aware of the group a participant is in), (4) incomplete outcome data (e.g., whether any participants left any of the groups and therefore whether there is any missing data), (5) description of concurrent treatment (e.g., such as medications or other practices such as mindfulness or meditation), and (6) intent-to-treat analysis (e.g., whether all who were allocated to randomized trials were actually included). As Baumeister and Alghamdi (2015) have argued, much evidence relies on “self-reports and lack objective evidence,” and overall, there are ongoing calls for additional work to be done to “determine the actual effect size of the interventions, since this is crucial for calculating the cost-effectiveness of resilience promotion strategies” (Macedo et al. 2014, p. 227).
Conclusions and Future Directions
The resilience of individuals has an important role for all people in society as it is closely linked to a wide range of health and well-being outcomes, including life satisfaction, subjective and psychological well-being, anxiety, and depression. As such, the development of such capacities through resilience education and training is an important, intentional strategy to promote health and well-being for all, including all ages, genders, and wider circumstances in life and work. It is due to this strategic location that research and practice development in relation to resilience training and education will continue to attract attention. However, a continuing critique in the literature about resilience education and training research revolves around the methodological apparatus deployed in making claims about such activity. These issues will continue to be clarified over the coming years, especially in relation to the conceptualizations and constructs of resilience and how these are operationalized into measurement tools and methods.
Conducting research within living workplaces will generally mean that access is partly determined by a wider overarching need to facilitate active learning processes which demonstrate value in changes to resilience capability (Wall et al. 2016, 2017a). In turn, this may necessitate utilizing realist or pragmatist perspectives which prioritize certain pragmatic outcomes over empirical ones (Rosetti and Wall 2017). However, such a perspective and practice may exacerbate rather than alleviate the methodological challenges discussed above, and this may need an axiological clarity as to what primarily is being sought through empirical work in a living workplace (Wall et al. 2017a). This methodological decision is, however, broader than a methodological decision but a value-based and ethically driven decision about the sorts of impacts the practitioner/researcher seeks in the world, especially in terms of health and well-being (Wall et al. 2018). Resilience education and training will, however, continue on their trajectory of being a core element of enabling people to respond and adapt to changes – adverse or otherwise – in the wider social, economic, and natural environments.
all effects yielded small effect sizes... and are therefore of limited practical relevance. Officer’s appraisal of training benefits on resilience enhancement was largely negative. We found no indications that 4-day training substantially improved officer’s psychological resilience or mental health. (p. 1)
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