The Challenge Model


The Challenge Model of human psychology grew out of our research with people who lead satisfying lives despite having suffered as children from the effect of hardship -- for instance family disruption, drug or substance abuse, violence, racism, poverty, neglect, abuse, or bitter divorce.

The Challenge Model, which is shown in the diagram below, is our attempt to explain how this reversal occurs.

Challenge Model Diagram

In the Challenge Model, two forces are at work as children interact with the troubles in their lives. The interplay is represented on the diagram by interweaving arrows. Troubles are seen as a danger to children and also as an opportunity. Children are vulnerable to the toxic influence of hardship, but they are also challenged to rebound from harm by experimenting, branching out, and developing their own resources. Over time, these self-protective behaviors develop into lasting clusters of strength that we have called resiliencies.

Practical Applications of the Challenge Model

The Challenge Model has practical implications for the mindset of teachers, clinicians, and prevention workers. By mindset we mean your habitual way of seeing and thinking about things.

The at-risk mindset can easily shape work with youth into a search for problems. Its hallmarks are diagnoses, labels, and "fix-it" interventions. Dwelling on the negative, it induces despair and burnout in staff, biases their understanding of the youth they serve, and promotes low expectations.

For youth, the at-risk mindset also has negative consequences. Regarded as clients or victims rather than as resources in their own lives, youth can experience services guided by the at risk mindset as uncaring, disrespectful, and even threatening.

By contrast, a challenge mindset, which is the logical extension of the Challenge Model, credits youth with the power to help themselves. It also casts adults not as directors or authorities in the lives of youth but as partners in their struggle to prevail. The hallmarks of a challenge mindset are a vocabulary for identifying resilience, reframing - a technique for talking to youth about their strengths, and the intention of motivating youth to act on their own behalf. A challenge mindset also encourages helping professionals to be hopeful and to hold high expectations for the youth in their care.

Our Other Core Concepts
Resilience as Behavior | Resilience as Struggle | Survivor's Pride | Resilience as Paradox | Vocabulary of Strengths | Phases of Strengths | Challenge Model | Reframing | Talking About Strengths

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