Resilience in Children


Investigators and Directors: Jane Gillham, Ph.D., Karen Reivich, Ph.D., and Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.

From 1990 to 2007, we conducted a series of longitudinal, controlled studies to determine the effectiveness of a school-based cognitive-behavioral intervention designed to prevent depression and anxiety among middle school students. To date, about 20 controlled studies have been conducted on the Penn Resilience Program (PRP), by the Penn research team and by other research groups. These studies have included thousands of students between the ages of 9 and 14. Taken together, these studies indicate that the Penn Resilience Program can prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. This research has been generously supported by federal grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

We use a train-the-trainer model, in which we train people how to deliver a structured resilience curriculum to school students. We have trained a variety of individuals to deliver the curriculum, including school teachers, school counselors, graduate students in psychology and education, mental health professionals, and Army soldiers. This model enables the wide-scale dissemination of the resilience skills.

Research suggests that delivery of the resilience curriculum to students is more effective when people attend an intensive training program provided by our Penn instructors. A review of studies on PRP indicates that effectiveness varies across studies (Gillham, Brunwasser, & Freres, 2007). This variability in effectiveness appears to be related, at least in part, to the training received by the deliverers of the curriculum. We therefore recommend that organizations interested in delivering the Penn Resilience Program are trained by the Penn team. At this training, prospective trainers learn about cognitive theories of childhood depression and social-emotive intervention strategies. They observe and practice curriculum delivery and receive extensive feedback and coaching.


Click here to learn about the Penn Resilience Program for your organization



The Optimistic Child

Learned Optimism

The Resilience Factor



The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) 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 principles and clinical practices developed 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 impact our emotions and behavior. Through this model, individuals 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. Individuals 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 x 90-minute lessons or 18-24 x 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.

Click here for a description of the PRP Lessons

Research: PRP has been evaluated in about 20 controlled studies with thousands of children and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 14. These studies have been conducted by the Penn research group as well as by other research teams. Most of the studies used randomized controlled designs. All of the studies assessed the effects on depressive symptoms. Several studies assessed the effects on cognitive styles that are linked to depression, such as pessimistic explanatory style, and several studies examined the effects on anxiety symptoms.

These studies indicate that PRP can prevent and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, although some inconsistent findings have been reported. The effects also appear to be long-lasting. In studies that include long-term follow-ups, the 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 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 levels of baseline symptoms (Gillham, Hamilton, Freres, Patton, & Gallup, 2006). One study that examined the 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).



Click here for a list of publications on PRP research

Click here for a list of publications on PRP research plus links to downloadable articles

Click here for the PRP Research Summary Table from Gillham, Brunwasser, & Freres (2007)

Click here to learn about the Penn Resilience Program for your organization