Psychologist gives tips on resilience

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kathleen Ferrero
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
With a new boss in the office, suddenly everything he did was perceived differently. Before, he was organized. Now it was "controlling." Before, he was creative. Now it was "haphazard."

It plunged him into the "basement" of his psyche. As clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Wicks described the experience, he said, "It's not the amount of darkness in the world that matters. It's how you stand in that darkness."

Wicks earned a standing ovation after speaking about spiritual resiliency at an Air Mobility Command conference of 32 chaplains and chaplain assistants July 20 at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

One goal of the three-day conference was to equip the chaplains and chaplain assistants to "know how to say yes to the right things, and sometimes no. Otherwise, you will burn out. And that's not a resilient chaplain corps," said AMC Command Chaplain (Col.) Gary Linsky during the opening remarks.

In his most recent book, Wicks defines resilience as "the ability to meet, learn from, and not be crushed by the challenges and stresses of life."

While sitting on a table in front of the conference audience, Wicks further described spiritual resilience as the ability "to breathe easily, to have trust, to be free from fear."

He encouraged the conference audience to do three things: set aside two minutes of time a day for reflection; nurture the mind with healthy, enjoyable pastimes; and get real about personal limits.

During the described low point in his life, Wicks said he was forced to "start living in the 'now.'âââä" He said that, most of the time, "We're either in the future doing great things or living in the silver casket of nostalgia. ... (But) you can't be frightened when you're living in the now."

Two minutes a day of reflection can help, he said. Taking this quiet time to "reset," especially if a person is stressing in both their personal and professional lives, can help them prevent losing themselves completely.

"It's not nice: It's necessary. Otherwise, the only time you find perspective is when things are awful," Wicks said.

Reflection is a sense of "unlearning" and self-awareness, he said.

"For chaplains, spirituality is rooted in faith in God and practiced through a variety of religiously centered spiritual disciplines. However, chaplains also recognize that spirituality takes many forms -- some religious in nature, some not. For instance, jazz music is a spiritual experience (for me)," said Ch. Lt. Col. William Ziegler III, who served as wing chaplain at the Air Force Academy.

It can be a simple practice for anyone, said Maj. David DePinho, McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., wing chaplain. He said when he wants to lower his heart rate, sometimes he thinks about being in the Colorado mountains.

"I'm smelling pines, walking along wildflowers at the Continental Divide."

Taking time for healthful enjoyment is another important part of spiritual resilience, Wicks said. Making space for books, movies, walks, museum visits and "things that really break you out of yourself and wake you up" can help one "seek that depth, that sense of greatness that we all had as adolescents and lose as adults."

He pointed out that walks are also beneficial. "Depression and activity do not like to live together."

Finally, when a person recognizes his or her limits and sets priorities ahead of time -- realizing they can't be everything to everyone -- then"what is essential gets the attention it needs, and you don't pick on yourself" as much for disappointing results, Wicks said.

"The opposite of detachment isn't compassion, it's over-involvement," he said.

Lt.Col. Kevin Lockett, a chaplain instructor at the Expeditionary Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., said Wicks' advice was insightful.

"He seems to connect with us really well," Lockett said. "Sometimes we get wrapped up in the idea of being human 'doings' instead of human 'beings.'ââ"

Spiritual fitness is one of four pillars of the AMC Comprehensive Airman Fitness initiative. The other three pillars are mental fitness, physical fitness and social fitness. To learn more about Comprehensive Airman Fitness, visit the Web site at