The MHS Journals

Our blog archive of insights and intel


What is GRIT? – “Guts” – “Resilience”

Nov 11, 2020

Adolescence is a time of transition and self-discovery and often fraught with stress and anxiety, even under the best conditions. For teenagers living with mental health challenges, the process of becoming an adult can be even more challenging to navigate. Professionals who work with adolescents living with a mental health diagnosis need a particular set of skills.

What is GRIT?

According to the Child Mind Institute, more than 17 million children in the United States live with a diagnosable mental health disorder; however, most will never receive the proper treatment or any treatment at all. Children and teenagers with mental illness often continue to struggle into adulthood, leaving them more likely to go to jail, more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol. The picture is clear; America’s children need interventions that work and adults who will advocate for them and teach them to advocate for themselves.

The National Council for Behavioral Health uses the letters GRIT to describe the traits necessary to help children and youth with mental health challenges. GRIT stands for guts, resilience, identification, and treatment. Clients, their families, and their treatment teams need these qualities for long term success.

In this article, we will focus on Guts and Resilience.


In traditional slang, your guts are in your stomach, and you need a strong stomach to do hard or scary things. Therefore, when we talk about having the “guts” to do something, we mean that you dare to do something that frightens you or makes you nervous. It doesn’t mean that nothing scares you or that you are never afraid of anything. Instead, having guts involves being brave enough to try something that may seem overwhelming at first. Working with young people struggling with a mental illness or learning disability certainly requires the guts to try hard things.

Young people receiving therapy for a mental health diagnosis may feel hopeless. They may have seen many doctors and mental health professionals already, and they may feel discouraged that anything is ever going to get better. Working with this population requires guts, being brave enough to keep trying new treatments until something works. Therapists may need to encourage clients and families to keep an open mind and believe that there is hope. Not only must the professional have the guts to keep working, but he or she must also encourage the client to find the courage to keep going for one more day.

Having the guts to face mental health challenges doesn’t mean telling everyone you know about what you’re facing. If you’re not ready to “go public,” take advantage of online screening tools, call an anonymous hotline, or talk to your primary care medical provider. Taking the first step is the hardest one of all for many people. However, the first step is the one that leads to lasting change.

The guts to find new ways of treating mental health issues in teens has led to mental health awareness. The body of knowledge available to modern practitioners has grown exponentially in the last ten years. Without practitioners, clients, families, and support people brave enough to participate in the research, these advances wouldn’t be possible. Therefore, these participants’ guts have helped make life better for the millions of others who later benefit from the treatments. These “strong stomachs” have helped strengthen brains for decades to come.


The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” More simply, resilience is the ability to adapt and move on when life poses difficult challenges. Everyone has some level of resilience, but some people seem to be able to use it more effectively than others.

When working with children and adolescents in the mental health setting, professionals must be resilient themselves, but they also must recognize and encourage resilience in clients. Therapists start by believing that they can help find a solution for their clients, even if other treatments or techniques have failed in the past. They may have to help families first admit that the young person has a condition that needs to be addressed instead of pretending the problem will go away on its own. Mental health professionals then reinforce to clients and their families that there is hope. Professionals understand and help their clients comprehend that treatment for mental health challenges may not be painless, but they are available if the parties have the determination to keep working.

While resilient people certainly feel sadness when they lose a loved one or a job or a relationship, they can adjust, change plans, and move forward more quickly and easily. Some people are resilient by nature, but it’s a skill that can be taught, as well. It’s a critically important one for young clients and their therapists as well to develop. Here are a few ways to build greater resilience in yourself, your clients, or someone you love:

  • Make connections and maintain them over time. Positive relationships with loved ones give you a support network to lean on in difficult times. If you don’t have family connections readily available, look for opportunities to do volunteer work in your community or join a church or other faith community.
  • Do at least one thing every day that makes you feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
  • Set goals for the future and lay out a plan to reach them. These steps help you stay hopeful and give you something to look forward to, even when the present seems bleak.
  • Learn from your past experiences, good and bad. When difficult things happen, try to learn from them. Remember the coping skills that got you through difficult times in the past.
  • Keep a journal that you can look back on later.
  • Anticipate that life can and will change. Knowing that challenges will come makes it easier to adapt and face them with less stress.
  • Practice self-care by eating right, pursuing some form of exercise each day, and getting enough sleep. Do things you enjoy, such as hobbies or sports. Yoga and meditation may help you relax and distress at the end of the day.

In the mental health setting, clients and their families may arrive discouraged. They may have already tried multiple interventions, different medications, and worked with varying styles of counselors. On the other hand, sometimes families are in denial that there is a problem and maybe hoping that the symptoms will go away on their own in time. Therapists can model resilience to teen clients by believing that there is hope and seeking new treatment options.

Though its role in the successful treatment of diagnosed mental health conditions is undeniable, resilience may also play a role in protecting teens from developing problems in the first place. Some researchers believe that resilience is a protective factor against anxiety and depression, offsetting risk factors such as bullying or trauma. Leading clients through exercises to develop resilience can help them not only in the present for the rest of their lives.

What is Identification and Treatment

In our next article, we will talk about how to identify and treat mental and emotional challenges facing youth today and what you can do to recognize when help is needed.

Where Can I Find Help?

If your teen shows signs of deteriorating mental health, MHS offers Dialectical Behavior Therapy for adolescents ages 12 to 18. These programs meet twice each week. Early adolescents (age 12 to 14) require parent participate at least twice weekly and the older adolescent program (for ages 14 to 18) offer an optional monthly parent education session. DBT is a comprehensive therapy to help clients decrease symptoms, increase safety, and enjoy a better life quality. Mindfulness, distress tolerance, and life balance are a few of the skills clients learn to practice in sessions and in their daily lives. All major insurance carriers cover this service. Call us today at (952) 835-2002 to schedule an intake appointment.


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