Learner Perspectives: Jing Wen (Jenny) Liu, PhD, on changing the narrative about resilience

Jenny Liu holding her two dogs by a rocky beach“When it comes to resilience, we tend to think of it as an end goal. When really, we should honour the process and the journey that we take; the connections we make on that journey, the way in which we process adversity and challenges, and how we have gained and sustained resilience through all of that.”

Jing Wen (Jenny) Liu is a postdoctoral associate working with the MacDonald Franklin OSI Research Centre and the Department of Psychiatry at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

With a background in psychological science, her scholarship bridges research in stress and resilience with community-based applications. She is the creator and lead author of the Multi-System Model of Resilience, which was developed into a mobile application. The model and tool currently are being used in several multi-year projects around the world.

Liu began to explore the literature around resilience after a personal experience left her struggling and feeling everything but resilient. With support from her mentors and workplace, she began to feel on solid ground once again. That led her to thinking about the systems and supports involved in creating resilience.

The more she learned, the more intrigued she became. It didn’t take long for her to realize that most of the literature available was focused on the individual – the skills, characteristics or traits that supposedly made someone resilient or not. 

“I thought, that can’t be it, and headed down the path of research that I am on now. What I’m hoping to do is expand on the idea that resilience is something found within us and change the narrative to highlight the process of resilience that involves how we interact with the world around us. Whether someone has struggled or not shouldn’t define resilience. Instead, resilience is defined through the ways in which we respond to our needs, access support networks, revisit our values, and process the challenges we encounter.

I hope to better understand these processes. How do we meet our needs? What resources from within and outside of us can we draw upon in different circumstances? I would like to see more programs expand beyond skills building to focus on these internal and external factors, such as collective empowerment, de-stigmatizing mental illness, connecting to larger support networks and better understanding of the social determinants of health that affect people’s overall well-being.

For me, resilience means our endless capacity and potential to deal with life’s challenges and changes. Through my work, I want to cultivate an awareness of resilience so we can expand and grow our resilience capacity. Resilience is not an all or nothing label. We can all access and use our resilience when we need it. I want to share this work so we can learn from each other’s journeys.”