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The Art of Resilience

The New York Times
August 1, 2004

THE positive psychology curriculum developed for Strath Haven High School in Pennsylvania seeks to teach adolescents how to overcome negative events. While part of the program involves academics, much of it deals with cognitive behavioral techniques modified for the classroom. The ''ABC model'' (for the interplay between adversity, beliefs and consequences) aims to help students assess a problem and their role in it, and gain control of their environment and emotions -- keys to preventing depression. The model is detailed in ''The Resilience Factor'' by two psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte. 

Here's how it works: 

Step A
Identify ''push-button adversities,'' challenges in the important areas of your life: school, friendships and family. What sets you off? Perhaps it is a low grade in a difficult course. 

Step B
Capture what it is you say to yourself in the heat of the moment. This is your ''internal radio station,'' often a litany of negative thoughts about the adversity. For teenagers whose ''emotions are all over the map,'' Dr. Reivich says, it can be particularly harsh. ''I'm not good enough to get the grade.'' 

Step C
Examine how inaccurate beliefs shape the quality of your feelings and behavior -- the consequences. Did you get the low grade because you were too busy to study during the semester? Will your negative reaction keep you from pursuing a genuine interest? What are the facts surrounding the adversity? Does your reaction reflect them? The key to the exercise, Dr. Reivich says, is connecting steps B and C and separating fact from interpretation. ''It's your beliefs that drive you,'' she says. ''They will determine how you respond.'' 

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