The Resilience Research Centre // rrc@dal.ca // +1 902 494 3050

Counselling Children, Youth and Families with Complex Needs

From May 5-6, 2014, participants joined Dr. Michael Ungar for a two-day workshop about "Counselling Children, Youth and Families with Complex Needs: An Ecological Approach to Nurturing Resilience across Cultures and Contexts." The workshop demonstrated the application of resilience theory and research to clinical practice. 

When treating children, youth and families who have experienced poverty, violence, marginalization, or psychological trauma, the focus is often too narrowly placed on individual complex needs and problems. Such focus on delinquency or conflict between children and caregivers misses the broader sources of healing and resilience in people’s lives. This workshop presented a strengths-focused model of intervention that draws on the potential capacity of people’s social ecologies (e.g. friends, cousins, parents, teachers, community and cultural mentors, government service providers, NGOs, etc.) as sources of resilience in contexts of significant adversity.

Participants learned how to identify and facilitate people’s access to seven factors that enhance resilience: 1) relationships; 2) a powerful identity; 3) a sense of personal control, agency and power; 4) social justice; 5) material resources like food, clothing, and safety; 6) a sense of belonging, life purpose, and spirituality; and 7) cultural rootedness. Participants also learned 20 skills to help the people they work with experience each of these seven factors in their lives in ways that are psychologically meaningful and contextually relevant. Finally, the workshop discussed a five-phase model of clinical practice to make interventions effective.


The workshop demonstrated this ecological approach to counselling by using exercises, clinical transcripts and video recordings. It built on best practice knowledge borrowed from both clinical work and studies of resilience among populations who face adversity. Because this intervention model combines clinical practice with aspects of case management and advocacy, it suits the needs of mental health professionals working in community mental health clinics, addiction treatment centres, schools, home-based family support programs, and correctional and residential settings. The workshop explored practical techniques for clinical intervention and case planning while providing participants a forum to discuss the most challenging children, youth and families with whom they work.


Workshop Objectives:

  • To understand how individuals and families with complex needs use “problem” behaviours to enhance their resilience and well-being when more socially acceptable solutions are not available
  • To become familiar with the principles of an ecological approach to individual and family intervention informed by research on resilience 
  • To discuss the Child and Youth Resilience Measure, which is an assessment tool that helps clinicians explore the hidden resilience of children and youth
  • To learn about seven factors associated with resilience
  • To develop strategies for working without resistance with hard-to-reach, culturally diverse children and adolescents
  • To discuss ways to provide services that foster the resilience of children, youth and families

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