Resilience science emerged more than half a century ago when pioneers in psychology, psychiatry, and paediatrics searching for clues to the origins and treatment of problems in child development observed the striking variation in outcomes among children at risk due to disadvantage and adversity.

From the out-set, resilience research pioneers, such as Norman Garmezy, Lois Murphy, Michael Rutter, and Emmy Werner, sought to inform practice by understanding the processes that explained how some individuals fared well in the face of adversity while others floundered. Their compelling ideas and research propagated the field of resilience science, which has transformed frameworks for practice in multiple disciplines by shifting the emphasis away from deficit-focused orientations toward models centered on positive aims, promotive and protective factors, and adaptive capacities.

Within the field of psychology, early inquiry examining resilience represented a ‘‘paradigm shift from looking at risk factors that led to psychosocial problems to the identification of strengths of an individual’’. Increasingly, researchers focused on identifying the characteristics of individuals, particularly young people (as we mentioned earlier), who thrived while living in difficult circumstances, such as poverty and parental mental illness. Examples of such qualities were: an easy temperament, good self-esteem, planning skills, and a supportive environment inside and outside the family. Therefore, the thrust of early research examining resilience was the search for factors that protect an individual from the stressors they encounter, and distinguish between those who adapt to the circumstances and those who do not.

Resilience research is informed by related disciplines, including traumatology (focus on adult responses to trauma), developmental psychopathology (focus on children’s responses to adversity), positive psychology (focus on human flourishing, positive emotions and positive relationships) and humanistic psychology (focus on human meaning-making and growth). There are, increasingly, intersections with health psychology (an examination of the way in which biological, psychological, and social factors affect health and illness) and neurobiological psychology.

There are three key tenets of resilience theory as it has developed since roughly the turn of the century.

1. Resilience is a developmental process, unfolding over time and circumstances.

2. Resilience involves a complex interaction of multiple mechanisms ranging from the individual level to the structural.

3. Resilience captures how people not only survive a variety of challenging circumstances, but thrive in the face of such adversity.


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