Resilience in College Students


Investigators and Directors: Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., Karen Reivich, Ph.D., and Peter Schulman


From 1990 to 2007, we conducted longitudinal, controlled studies to determine the effectiveness of a school-based cognitive-behavioral intervention designed to prevent depression and anxiety among college students. These studies indicate that the Penn Resilience Program can prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as increased optimism and well-being and better physical health. 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 students. We have trained a variety of individuals to deliver the curriculum, including school teachers, school counselors, mental health professionals, graduate students in psychology and education, and Army soldiers. Participants could also include student leaders who are resources for other students, such as resident advisors.  This model enables the wide-scale dissemination of the resilience skills.


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Learned Optimism

The Optimistic Child

The Resilience Factor



The Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) for college students is a classroom-based group intervention. 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 self-defeating beliefs, to evaluate the accuracy of those beliefs, and to replace negative thoughts with more accurate and constructive beliefs. 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: In the research studies, PRP was delivered in eight 2-hour lessons, once per week over eight weeks, but this schedule can vary. Within each lesson, resilience concepts and skills are presented and practiced in a variety of ways. The program includes interactive presentations by the lead instructor and experiential sessions in which participants discuss applications, practice skills, and receive personal feedback from instructors. During the lessons, students have opportunities to apply what they learn to their specific personal and academic needs. Students are also encouraged to use the new skills in their daily life between the lessons, as part of their weekly homework.



Seligman, M.E.P., Schulman, P., DeRubeis, R.J., & Hollon, S.D. (1999). The prevention of depression and anxiety. Prevention and Treatment. Click here to download article

Buchanan, G.M, Gardenswartz, C.R., & Seligman, M.E.P. (1999). Physical health following a cognitive-behavioral intervention, Prevention and Treatment. Click here to download article

Seligman, M.E.P., Schulman, P. & Tryon, A. (2007). Group prevention of depression and anxiety symptoms. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1111-1126. Click here to download article


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