#OTalk – 11th May 2021 – “Resilience” – helpful or a hindrance?

This weeks chat will be hosted by Rachael Daniels @RachaelD_OT .

“We work in a world of traumas and triumphs. Most of the persons we serve come to us out of necessity, struggling with the sequelae of disease and illness or the aftermath of natural or manmade disasters.” (Fine, 1991). 

The term “resilience” is used when referring to how individuals overcome adversity (Bonanno, 2004). The term seems to be everywhere, but what does it really mean? Is referring to somebody as resilient a compliment? Or could it be considered insulting? 

In recent decades, there has been an influx of research on resilience (Bonanno, 2004; Leipold & Greve, 2009; Becvar, 2012) and yet a collective notion on its value is yet to be reached. Such interest in resilience is not surprising, as many industries and professions continue to move from a deficit-based approach to a strength-based approach. It is likely through the influx of this traction that the buzzword ‘resilience’ has taken off. 

In terms of defining resilience, there is controversy in the literature as to whether resilience is a personal trait, a process, or an outcome (Ahern, Ark, & Byers, 2008). In the field of psychology, resilience is considered to be a biopsychosocial and spiritual phenomenon. It is often defined as ‘the developable capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity, conflict, and failure or even positive events, progress, and increased responsibility’ (Luthans, 2002, p. 702). 

When considering individuals and their perceived resilience,  Becvar (2012) surmised that one of the most accepted beliefs is that resilience refers to the capacity of those who, even in incredibly stressful situations, are able to cope, to rebound, and to eventually go on and thrive (Becvar, 2012). Lopez (2011) stated that Occupational Therapy practitioners should be cognizant of a patient’s resilient and adaptive capacity when providing services to a patient that has endured a traumatic event. With that in mind, is there a role for Occupational Therapists in assisting individuals to increase their resilience? Or indeed, is it even possible for one to improve their resilience? 

Newman (2005); Padesky & Mooney (2012) and Peters (2020), argue that we can all learn techniques to help build resilience. These are said to include: cognitive reframing techniques, character-building, stress management, viewing crises as challenges, learning to accept things you can’t change; sharing feelings, and keeping things in perspective (Peters, 2020). Is this something that we, as Occupational Therapists, are already addressing? If not, should we be?

  1. What does resilience mean to you?
  2. Would you be happy to be referred to as resilient? Please explain your answer. 
  3. Have you ever referred to somebody as resilient? If so, what was their response?
  4. Do you feel that the term resilient could demean the conscious efforts of individuals to overcome adversity?


Ahern, N. R., Ark, P., & Byers, J. (2008) ‘Resilience and coping strategies in adolescents’, Paediatric Nursing, 20, pp.32-36.

Becvar, D.S. ed., (2012) Handbook of family resilience. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

Bonanno, G.A (2004) ‘Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience: Have We Underestimated the Human Capacity to Thrive After Extremely Aversive Events?’ American Psychologist, 59(1), pp.20–28. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.59.1.20

Fine, S.B. (1991) ‘Resilience and human adaptability: Who rises above adversity?’, American Journal of Occupational Therapy45(6), pp.493-503.

Leipold, B. & Greve, W. (2009) ‘Resilience: A conceptual bridge between coping and development’, European Psychologist14(1), pp.40-50.

Lopez, A. (2011) ‘Posttraumatic stress disorder and occupational performance: building resilience and fostering occupational adaptation’, Work38(1), pp.33-38.

Luthans, F. (2002) ‘The need for and meaning of positive organizational behavior’, Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior23(6), pp.695-706.

Newman, R. (2005) ‘APA’s resilience initiative’, Professional psychology: research and practice36(3), p.227.

Padesky, C.A. & Mooney, K.A. (2012) ‘Strengths‐based cognitive–behavioural therapy: A four‐step model to build resilience’, Clinical psychology & psychotherapy19(4), pp.283-290.Peters, M.A. (2020) ‘The Plague: Human resilience and the collective response to catastrophe’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1745921


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