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Ryerson psychology student creates app to build resiliency

How Jenny Liu’s groundbreaking PhD research led to an app you can use
By: Suelan Toye
August 19, 2019
From left: Maureen Reed and Jenny Liu

Psychology PhD student Jenny Liu (right) and professor Maureen Reed, Department of Psychology, (left), have launched an app that helps people gauge their resilience and offers tips on coping with stressful situations. Photo credit: Alyssa Katherine Faoro.

Going back to school can be an exciting time for students, but it can also be stressful. If you’re a student who wants some tips to strengthen your resiliency heading into September, well, there’s an app for that, thanks to a Ryerson student.

Psychology PhD student Jenny Liu, in collaboration with psychology professor Maureen Reed, has developed an app to measure your resilience. The free app, called MSMR (Multi-System Resilience), which can be downloaded from any iPhone or Android device, tells individuals how well they are coping with life’s everyday challenges. The app also directs users to a website, external link with tips on how to build resiliency.

The app emerged from a groundbreaking new model for measuring resilience that Liu developed for her PhD thesis in 2016. “I thought of myself as resilient, and that contributed to my identity. But then I went through some challenges,” recalled the student. “I realized had I not had access to mentorship, services and protection, I would not have been able to cope with those challenges.”

That experience inspired her PhD research examining different models of resilience as defined by the psychology literature. Liu discovered contradictions in how resilience is defined and measured, so she developed a new model of resilience that looked at both internal and external factors as well as the coping mechanisms that are involved.

“I saw researchers addressing different aspects of resilience, but there wasn’t anyone looking at it from a more holistic perspective,” she said.

Reed, who was one of the readers who evaluated her research paper, was impressed by Liu’s research model on resilience.

Demand for an online tool

“When I look at Jenny’s model, I firmly believe she’s going to be one of those psychologists that everyone knows about. In fact, one of my most cited publications is hers,” said Reed, laughing.

Indeed, once Liu published her paper on her new model of resilience in 2017, psychologists around the world immediately contacted her to find out if she was planning to create an online tool for psychologists to assess their patients’ resiliency.

In response to the demand for an online tool, Liu and Reed developed and launched MSMR as an app in May. So far, the app has been downloaded more than 150 times.

Users are guided through a short series of questions that examines both their internal (i.e. health, diet, mental well-being) and external resilience (i.e. finances, physical appearance, community/accessibility to social supports) as well as coping strategies used to manage challenges in their lives. The online tool then gives the user a score that represents their overall resilience and a breakdown of their strengths across different areas. Each individual’s results are kept confidential and the responses are not recorded or shared in any way by the researchers.

Liu says it’s important for students to know how resilient they are.

“We are constantly trying to be the best version of ourselves, but may be going about it blindly and doing things that may not be meeting our needs to cope with challenges. This app can be used by students as a first step to find out the areas they are most resilient in and areas where they need some help.”

Reed, who studies student success, notes that students, especially those in their first-year, should know about all the resources available to them on campus to help them shore up their resiliency. Indeed, Ryerson has a plethora of services and resources for students, from ThriveRU, a resilience training program, to their popular therapy dog program.

Liu hopes the app will help individuals understand that being resilient is a process.

“I see the app as a way to educate and understand the study of resilience and conduct research that is more unified and more meaningful.”

The app was supported by the Royal Bank of Canada’s RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project grant.

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