Dr. Rachel Bédard On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times
Prioritize connections. We get so hung up in “doing” that we forget that our most precious resource is others. Each day, when you are making your “to do” list, add a column that lists at least two people you want to CONNECT with and be sure you do. It is so easy to NOT prioritize relationships, and yet as human BEINGS connections are prime, and when we do go back to the “doing” part of our list, then we have people to help should we get stuck. This can help us stay resilient, but sometimes it takes courage to reach out to others in our lives.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Rachel Bédard, PhD.
Dr. Rachel Bédard is a psychologist who helps individuals and families find new ways to manage stress and anxiety, reach personal goals, and improve communication. She has worked with people on the autism spectrum and with anxiety for more than 20 years and is located in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dr. Bédard is also a Writer for Autism Parenting Magazine where she shares ideas for how people on the spectrum can overcome their difficulties and work together to find practical solutions.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I work in a private practice, sharing an office with eight other providers. What is unique about our office is that all of us work with neurodiverse clients. Collectively, we are called the Social Learning Project. The choice of the words Social Learning seems obvious; against advice, we added the word Project to reflect our collaborative enterprise, where we use a flexible, strength-based approach. We think as practitioners we should be flexible and create programming that is current, needed, in response to what our clients are telling us (rather than fixed and from a dated academic book).
This shared office space is actually the partial realization of a dream from one of our team members, who requested that we intentionally create a space for one-stop-shopping for support for families, to decrease the stress and running around for parents. We are on our way!
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I will tell you a story that is both interesting, funny, and humbling. It occurred while I was in training in my doctoral program. I was excited to see my very first client, a college student struggling with excessive alcohol consumption intended to manage his anxiety, and depression. This client kept talking about his friends “coming out,” and his desire for similar support from his family. My developmental task as a therapist at that time was to reflect feelings of this monumental issue. I was so focused on reflecting feelings that I missed the basic meaning of WHAT he was saying.
As therapy went on, and I asked more questions about his “coming out” process, to my disbelief (and his! My exceptionally smooth and supportive question was, “Wait, so are you trying to tell me you are gay and you wished your mom was more supportive?”) I realized I had misunderstood him. He actually was talking about his challenge of “coming out” to Colorado, and MOVING across the country to attend college, not a sexual orientation coming out. (He was unaware that the phrase “coming out” had anything to do with sexual orientation.)
I was horrified, humbled, and thought about moving to another state myself! He subsequently told all his roommates about the verbally clumsy incident, and laughed with his pals at my ineptitude (which was fine, because it was kinda humorous). Fun fact: the alcohol laden roommates then started therapy, too (not with me, because while I may have been verbally clumsy, I did and still do have ethical principles to uphold!).
Lesson learned: clarify communication, even when you think you KNOW what you are both talking about. Go ahead and check those assumptions! Another lesson: it is ok to make mistakes, recover from them, and laugh in therapy. Those lessons were not written on the syllabus that semester, but they were lessons learned.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I was in private practice when I met my colleague, now friend, Mallory Griffith. Mallory is a Speech Language Pathologist who really changes lives for individuals and families. We teamed up to run a problem solving group, write a couple of books, and then started to expand our tiny universe to include more therapists. Our colleagues have diverse backgrounds, but we are tied together by the common thread that we wish to help those who are neurodiverse thrive. I think we stand out in our community because we refer to other professionals, are comfortable saying, “I don’t know” and asking for help, and because we collaborate, rather than compete.
There is generally lots of laughing at work, lots of support for projects, and a drive to help all humans succeed. I think our clients feel that positivity and our willingness to ask for help on behalf of our clients. As a therapeutic and scientific community, we actually don’t know quite a bit, especially about very bright Autistic women, and it is ok to acknowledge the need for all of us to keep learning.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
As I scroll through my mental list of all my supporters over the years, the most consistent person in my story is my husband (that acknowledgement in writing will shock him!). I have experienced tremendous professional support over the years, but it is my husband, who followed me around the country as I completed my education, and funded our life while I split my time between raising our child and raising my practice. He is also the person who gets us out of the house, out of the country, on adventures, and researched/procured a covid-puppy, our first ever dog. The only reason I can lounge on my couch, gazing at our dog, completing this interview in a lovely house he built, is because he rocks.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
This is an intriguing question for me. As a psychologist, we are so pathology based: what is wrong with you? I was lucky to attend a graduate program that insisted on strengths-based viewpoints, what is right with you? How did you manage to survive thus far, where are you headed, and what might you achieve?
Resilience is the ability to maintain, or regain, one’s emotional equilibrium. It seems that resilient people have the ability to avoid the pitfalls the rest of us suffer: catastrophizing, blowing things out of proportion, etc. Resilient people have a can-do attitude, ask for help, have an internal library of successes that they reference, ask themselves “how can I do this, and who can help?” and have an ability to take setbacks in stride and get back on task. Resilient people seem to be able to make meaning of events that feel like barriers, and use these events as stepping stones to learning about themselves.
We generally learn how to be resilient from those around us. We see how others move through the day, react to experiences, and seemingly either trend toward health and wellness…or not. All of us are surrounded by models of resilience, and the inverse of resilience. We have all seen someone deal with adversity in a bouncing-back-from-failure manner, as well as seen those adult tantrums when people are having a less resilient moment in life.
It can take as little as ONE PERSON to promote resilience in another person. Seriously, ONE person can influence the life of another, modify the trajectory, highlight a strength, or provide an opportunity for growth. Optimally we have more than one person to support us and guide us, but hello, that one person could be YOU.
When I was teaching, I would encourage my students to consider who helped them to develop resilience, and for whom can they be a positive influence and change the life of another? We can promote our own resilience, AND we can accept help and offer a hand to others on their path to resilience.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is about developing the strength to face our fears or difficulties. Some view courage as representing a behavioral component — behaving in a way that perhaps leans into that fear, or a behavior that might seem risky (emotionally, socially, perhaps physically). For example, it might take courage to leave an unhealthy relationship, or start a new career.
To join the two ideas: resilience could be bouncing back, while courage would be not just bouncing back, but also leaning into the next personal challenge. Perhaps the overlapping part of those two characteristics (as seen in the Venn diagram below) could be termed adaptation, or being adaptable, or perhaps representing a growth mindset.
When we see individuals who are resilient AND courageous, we see that they are ADAPTABLE to life’s challenges. For example, this pandemic has required resilience from us, and quite unexpectedly. We weren’t given much warning, and then next thing you know, your whole life is “remote” in multiple ways. Some people used this time for reflection, pondering what scares them, considering what holds them back, and then created some pretty fantastic post-pandemic/quarantine plans that include furthering education, changing jobs, modifying relationships, and so forth. The growth mindset/adaptable people made changes to promote personal growth in a time that also required resilience.
For those of us who discovered ALL of Netflix, not to worry. One can be resilient without also being courageous:) No shame in that. It is also ok to challenge yourself, adapt to circumstances, and make novel plans, on your own timeline. Comparing ourselves to others is perhaps not the best example of resilience or courage, eh?
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Immediately, a former client comes to mind. This client was a college student with a medical impairment which made it hard to walk smoothly or delicately. She was picked on and bullied for the physicality of her medical condition. Her speech was impacted as well, which prompted the general public to make assumptions about her intellect (poor choice!). All that said, she was tough as nails, committed to her educational and life goals, and had plans to date/marry/parent, in defiance of what society and her family suggested. She just adapted to the circumstances and kept going. Somehow, she was not jaded, just focused on her life goals.
One of the many reasons why I liked her was because she asked that we read a book together and report back. She chose the book and the pace of reading! She knew what she needed, asked me to join her in her goals, and was superb about advocating for herself in my office. She is the picture of resilience.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Oh, please, I’m a woman with a PhD. I am a smart woman raised in privilege, and yet I was told lots of inappropriate things: don’t use the big vocab words because it scares the boys away (see also heternormative language), don’t challenge your supervisors, don’t tell the family you have a PhD — it intimidates them; you can’t run a private practice part time, your fees can’t be that high/low, you can’t be pregnant during your education, you can’t open a private practice while training for an ultramarathon and renovating your house. And my personal favorites: don’t be so funny/informal/honest with your clients or you will never stay in this business.
Done and done. (Can you see me swiping my palms together and writing my next to-do list??)
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Nope, no setbacks here, ever. Kidding. I’m a human, so I’ve had my share of setbacks. Resilience is earned, and I’m pretty resilient. I’m also very grateful. Rather than focusing on setbacks, I tend to focus on the “can you believe it?!” moments of human kindness, things working out, and thinking about how to make a difference of some sort.
Again, referencing my colleagues: we added Emily Daniels because some mom in a school parking lot told her to call me — and she did. What?! That is not how we intentionally add colleagues to our work group. We now work with Dr. Lorna Hecker because she responded to a Craigslist ad for office space…and now we have a book with her! Again, a seemingly random addition to our group (because who chooses colleagues from Craigslist), and we could not function without her insights, talents, and positivity!
I could go on and on — if you look for strengths and signs of risk/resilience, you will find them. Searching the data set of experience is probably part of resilience.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Oh, dear. Did you get these questions from my therapist? I keep dodging the questions, and you keep going after me:) Fine: some vulnerability and honesty from me.
I grew up in a strict family, with lots of rules and expectations. I internalized those expectations and then essentially bullied myself for years with criticism and anxiety. I’m super high achieving and a go-getter, so please imagine that I was amazing at self-criticism. As in, maybe I should have received an award or something for the level of self-criticism and self-doubt.
At some point (honestly — at several points! I needed lots of reminders and “opportunities” to grow), the message finally sunk in that it is possible to have high standards and expectations coupled with positive self-talk (rather than constant criticism). Seriously, some blunt examples were shoved in my direction that I was preventing myself from progressing in life. I was told by more than one supervisor that I needed to “get a handle” on my anxiety and self-doubt because my clinical skills were fine. (Actually, the feedback from my supervisors was far funnier than that, but I’ll spare my supervisors the embarrassment.)
Over lots of time and lots of “opportunities,” I was gradually able to identify my unique strengths and harness them as resilience and, well, as ME. I am a funny, overly honest person with great problem solving skills. I can be me, genuinely ME, and also be kind, have high standards, and lay on the couch on occasion (reference this interview, and all the other hours I plan to spend on the couch this weekend!). I don’t have to chastise myself to reach my goals. I can be kind and resilient and reach my goals.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
In no particular order:
- Monitor your self-talk. Are you nice to yourself, or do you bully yourself? Most of us say fairly awful things to ourselves that we would NEVER say to another person, because those words are rude and hurtful. If you would not say it to others, please don’t say it to yourself.
– “Wow, this is a terrible suggestion about monitoring self-talk! My ideas are questionable at best” would gently become, “It is amazing that someone believes in me enough to suggest that I am interviewed for this publication. Wowza! Do what you can; I got you!”
– Remembering to monitor your thoughts is perhaps the hardest part of this task. Grab a marker and write a heart on your hand. Nobody has to know what that heart is about…but when you see the heart, use the opportunity to monitor your self-talk. If your self-talk needs correction, please be gentle with that conversation! No self-recrimination when you notice a “mistake” — just an “opportunity” to modify your self-talk, as one would revise a screenplay or manuscript.
- Assume positive intent and positive outcomes. When faced with a struggle, ask yourself, “When have I faced a similar puzzle? How did I handle it?” (See how I modified the word struggle to puzzle??)
I sometimes have clients who really puzzle me. I want to be helpful, while having boundaries, and sometimes I don’t know what best to say or do. And then I remember that most humans are resilient, and that all humans change and grow over a lifetime. Believing that there is a positive ending or connection in this client’s life helps me find a pathway. I also ask myself, “What would Therapist X or Y say?”
The inverse of this is to assume that you are doomed to failure, or others are out to get you. Believing that others want a positive outcome, or to see you succeed, is part of resilience. As is actually asking for help! Call Therapist X or Y and ask them what to do!!
- Actively look for kindness, goodness, and successes in your life. The successes can be small (I ate an extra piece of fruit today!) or larger (ahem, I actually said yes to this interview, despite my anxiety). LOOK for the successes, bonus points if you share the successes with others, or write them down. (Science says writing things down uses a different part of your brain than thinking or talking. Here is a pen. Get started.) The more you ask your brain to follow the pattern (Show me success! Kindness! Happiness!), the faster your brain will churn out the data points for you, and optimally diversify the responses. Today’s small successes for me: I exercised, got outside, had a great conversation with a perplexing client, and asked a friend for help with a work project (which I didn’t want to do — ask, that is, but I did anyhow. And she said YES!)
- Mistakes and imperfections make us human, and allow us to connect. Perfection is not actually a healthy goal. Perfection prevents us from connecting, and to be human we need genuine connection. Harness those imperfections as opportunities to build resilience and connection. I am shockingly imperfect. Obviously, given my upbringing, I can offer you a lengthy list of my imperfections:) I can also use those imperfections to connect with clients and friends, ease discomfort, model asking for help/clarification, and give others the opportunity to help me, which is, apparently, a gift.
- Prioritize connections. We get so hung up in “doing” that we forget that our most precious resource is others. Each day, when you are making your “to do” list, add a column that lists at least two people you want to CONNECT with and be sure you do. It is so easy to NOT prioritize relationships, and yet as human BEINGS connections are prime, and when we do go back to the “doing” part of our list, then we have people to help should we get stuck. This can help us stay resilient, but sometimes it takes courage to reach out to others in our lives.
- Bonus # 6 — Take care of yourself every.single.day. Eat well, engage in meaningful relationships, exercise, go outside, get adequate rest, get restful sleep (two different things!), engage in activities that fill you up, practice gratitude, and add in whatever activities bring value to your life. Cut yourself some slack. You can have significant goals, and hold yourself accountable, without being mean about it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
What I would like the most is actually two things:
- I would like to see more kindness in this world. People going out of their way to help another living being, saying nice things, sharing, building each other up instead of cutting each other down.
- I think this world needs more messages written in chalk, “I love your dog!” or “I love your house!” You don’t even need to talk to people to say something nice! And you can be anonymous!!
- I would like neurodiverse people to run the world. For some reason (ahem, what could it be??), we have used gatekeeping measures to keep these neurodiverse individuals out of positions of power and influence. Can you even imagine if we allowed these talented minds to share insights, write (right!) policy, balance budgets, and direct our future? We could decrease stigma, address climate change, address social and financial inequities, and…address other things that my oh so typical brain just cannot even fathom.
- Also, neurodiverse folks are not miracle workers, and they make mistakes, too, so cut our future leaders some slack when they mess up, because they will, because they are humans.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Yes, please! I would like to sit down with Jennifer Cook, autistic author of many books, teacher, influencer, and role model. I have much to learn from her about humanity, autistic women, power and influence, and how to cede my role in this professional life to someone like her. And, I imagine we will get off task, so it will probably take us a weekend or a month, preferably in a warm beachy type place where there is great food and a gym available, so when you book that…you know, I can just send you a list of resorts!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check out www.drrachelbedard.com and thesociallearningproject.com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
The pleasure was entirely mine. Thank you!