An exploration of community resilience in a group of postgraduate students in a challenging training programme
Strong, Grant Martin
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The literature on community resilience focuses on communities' adaptation in the aftermath of natural disasters. However, little attention has been given to continuous exposure to challenging circumstances that require resourceful adaptation. Community resilience is known as a community's resourcefulness and capacity for renewal despite adverse and challenging circumstances. In this research, communities are conceptualised as relational-based collectives with common boundaries and interests. This study aims to explore community resilience amongst two groups of students in a challenging training programme. In this context a challenging training programme refers to master's students in clinical/counselling psychology training. Literature confirms that these students face extremely stressful and demanding challenges such as high academic and practical workload, the mastering of complex skills, exposure to emotional hardships, and theoretical integration that need to take place. Previous research on community resilience that has been conducted from a quantitative perspective reports technical shortcomings in measurement that need considerable attention. Hence, this research employs qualitative research, as qualitative methods can side-step those shortcomings and are generally more congruent with the values of community psychology. A case study method was used to explore community resilience. The case study method was an appropriate method for this study since it allowed the researchers to gain an in-depth understanding of community resilience. The participants as students in the 2007 and 2008 academic years constitute two separate communities under investigation. Seventeen students (3 males and 14 females) between the ages of 23 and 30 years were purposively selected to reflect on abstract processes in their own community. The data collection methods included the Mmogo-method™, an in-depth individual interview, focus group discussions and written texts that were used to discover community resilience. The Mmogo-method™ makes a unique contribution to this research as it allows for the accessing of contextually-sensitive data. The findings illustrated that challenges emerged from both within as well as from outside the community. These challenges also served as a motivation for building community resilience. Internally-created threats to community resilience, such as poor interpersonal relations, deserve special attention as previous research appears to have overlooked their relevance. In this study, developing community resilience most notably involved a cyclical process, that requires time, the availability of tangible resources (finances, lecturers) and the application of personal resources (humour, hope) and member proximity. The maintaining of community resilience implies that the community had achieved an adequate level of resilience and tried in various ways to preserve it. Such ways are amongst others the acknowledgement of shared experiences, belonging, hope, humour and respect for diversity. The functions of community resilience involved the mutual supplementation and fortification of members in the community. This function served as a resource through which members were strengthened and protected in the group. This research indicates that community resilience is not dependent on a group of resilient individuals, but that it rather emerges in the relational dynamics, through the application of resources and the available of time. Community resilience consists of complex processes in which community members accept responsibility for each other's pain.
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