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Resilience Research in Children

The Penn Resiliency Project

Investigators and Co-Directors: Jane Gillham, Ph.D. & Karen Reivich, Ph.D.
Email: info@ pennproject.org

 

OVERVIEW AND BACKGROUND

 

The Penn Resiliency Program Curriculum

 

Overview: The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP), designed by our research team, is a group intervention for late elementary and middle school students. The curriculum teaches cognitive-behavioral and social problem-solving skills and is based in part on cognitive-behavioral theories of depression by Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, and Martin Seligman (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978; Beck, 1967, 1976; Ellis, 1962). Central to PRP is Ellis' Adversity-Consequences-Beliefs (ABC) model, the notion that our beliefs about events mediate their impact on our emotions and behavior. Through this model, students learn to detect inaccurate thoughts, to evaluate the accuracy of those thoughts, and to challenge negative beliefs by considering alternative interpretations. PRP also teaches a variety of strategies that can be used for solving problems and coping with difficult situations and emotions. Students learn techniques for assertiveness, negotiation, decision-making, social problem-solving, and relaxation. The skills taught in the program can be applied to many contexts of life, including relationships with peers and family members as well as achievement in academics or other activities.

Structure of PRP lessons: PRP is typically delivered in 12 90-minute lessons or 18-24 60-minute lessons. Some projects have used shorter versions of PRP. Within each lesson, resilience concepts and skills are presented and practiced in a variety of ways. Skills are introduced through skits, role plays, short stories, or cartoons that illustrate the core concepts. Once students have a firm understanding of these concepts, they practice with hypothetical examples that demonstrate how the skill is relevant to real-world situations that they might face. Students discuss situations in which they used, or could have used, the concepts they have just learned. They are then encouraged to use the new skills in their daily life as part of their weekly homework.

PRP Group Leaders: PRP group leaders have included PRP’s developers, graduate students in psychology and education, mental health professionals, and school teachers and counselors. Group leaders typically receive extensive training and supervision.

Links to additional information about the PRP curriculum:
Description of PRP Lessons
Group Leader Training and Supervision
Curriculum Availability

 

RESEARCH

 

Previous Evaluations and Findings

 

PRP has been evaluated in at least 13 controlled studies with more than 2,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 15. These studies have been conducted by our research group as well as by other research teams. Most of the studies used randomized controlled designs. All of the studies assessed PRP’s effects on depressive symptoms. Several studies assessed PRP’s effects on cognitive styles that are linked to depression, such as pessimistic explanatory style, and three studies examined PRP’s effects on anxiety symptoms.

Taken together, the existing studies suggest that PRP prevents symptoms of depression and anxiety, although some inconsistent findings have been reported. PRP’s effects also appear to be long-lasting. In studies that include long-term follow-ups, PRP’s effects sometimes endure for two years or more. In several studies, PRP has prevented elevated or clinically relevant levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. One study examined PRP’s effects on clinical diagnoses and found significant prevention of depression, anxiety and adjustment disorder diagnoses (combined) across a two-year follow-up period among children with high (but not low) levels of baseline symptoms (Gillham, Hamilton, Freres, Patton, & Gallup, 2006). One study that examined PRP’s long-term effects on behavioral (externalizing) problems found significant preventive effects of disruptive behaviors 24 to 36 months after the intervention (Cutuli, 2004; Cutuli, Chaplin, Gillham, Reivich, & Seligman, 2007).

Links to additional information about past PRP research:
List of PRP References
Empirical Evaluations of PRP
PRP Research Summary Table from Gillham, Brunwasser, & Freres (2007)

 

Help us update our summary of PRP research! Have you conducted a study of PRP? If so, we would be grateful if you could send us information about the study (including the reference for any manuscripts or publications) to us at prpresearch@ gmail.com. Thank you!

 

CURRENT PROJECTS

The Resilience Project for Children and Parents: With funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, we are currently working in collaboration with two school districts in the Philadelphia area to test the effectiveness of a new parent program designed to accompany the adolescent intervention. The parent program teaches participants to use key PRP skills in their own lives and helps parents encourage their children’s use of these skills. Our hope is that parents will model the PRP skills at home long after the school-based intervention groups have ended. In addition, adolescents and parents attend several booster sessions in the years following the intervention. The booster sessions review the critical concepts covered in the initial intervention. We hope that these new additions to the PRP will produce longer lasting intervention effects.

The Penn Resiliency Project in the United Kingdom (The UK Resilience Program): We are currently consulting on a project that brings PRP to the UK. The major goals of this project are: 1) to adapt PRP for use in the UK, 2) to train teachers on the resilience skills and the delivery of the PRP curriculum to middle school students, and 3) to evaluate the benefits of resilience training when it is implemented on a wide scale. During the summer 2007, members of our research team trained approximately 90 teachers to deliver an adapted version of the PRP curriculum to groups of students in South Tyneside, Hertfordshire, and Manchester local authorities. At present, we are providing ongoing supervision and support to these teachers as they implement the program with several hundred students during the 2007-2008 academic year. A team of researchers at the London School of Economics will head the evaluations of the UK Resilience Program.

Geelong Grammar School Positive Psychology Project in Australia: We are also collaborating with Geelong Grammar School (GGS) in Australia, which serves approximately 1500 K-12 boarders and day students. Members of the GGS staff are committed to integrating themes of resilience, optimism, and other components of Positive Psychology into the school’s culture through the formal implementation of curricula as well as the more informal incorporation of Positive Psychology and resilience into boarding house life, athletics, and administration. Our involvement with this project is twofold: First, about 120 Geelong Grammar School teachers and other professionals in educational and mental health fields participated in a 9-day training workshop in January 2008. During this phase, our team trained the attendees in the research background and practical applications of resilience, optimism, and other areas of Positive Psychology. The second phase of this project, currently underway, will enable GGS teachers to dialogue with resident and visiting scholars in the field of Positive Psychology, who will act as resources as these teachers continue to integrate many of the skills taught in PRP into their school culture.

Click here for Positive Psychology at Geelong Grammar School

Targeting Gender-Related Risk Factors: The Girls in Transition Program (GT): Through her work at Swarthmore College, Dr. Gillham has been developing and piloting a resilience program for early adolescent girls. The GT program includes key cognitive-behavioral concepts and skills from PRP, but focuses more on emotion regulation, interpersonal relationships and conflicts, and contextual risk factors for depression. New activities target rumination, body image concerns, media messages, and relational aggression, as well as other risk factors that may be particularly relevant to depression in girls during the transition to adolescence.

Other adaptations of PRP: Members of the PRP team are also collaborating on several projects that incorporate PRP skills. For example, we are collaborating on projects that blend PRP with family interventions and with interventions for youth with medical illnesses.

 

FURTHER READING ON PRP

Links to PRP publications:
Descriptions of the PRP Program and Skills
Empirical Evaluations of PRP
List of PRP References
Books

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

Links to answers:
How can I get copies of the PRP manuals?
Can I participate in one of your ongoing trainings for educators/clinicians?
Can I sign my child up for a PRP group?

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