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

  1. What does resilience mean to you? – to me resilience USED to mean strength, being able to overcome whatever challenges are thrown at you. However after the past year of the pandemic, the word resiliency has been changed in my opinion to mean that you can push through anything and will be ok no matter what. I feel that the term resiliency has been weaponized by the government and large corporations to put people’s mental health and wellness in their own hands and push away the idea that we NEED systematic change and support from the government and our jobs to get through tough times. For example, the company I used to work for was a healthcare company that refused to give us paid sick days, and they would send out multiple emails a month celebrating our “resiliency” when we really only got paid per client so people wouldn’t take days off because they needed the income.

    Would you be happy to be referred to as resilient? Please explain your answer. – as a follow up to the question up above, I believe that the term has been changed to a cop out from the system. I know that I am resilient in some ways, but I am also vulnerable and fragile in a way that I recognize that I am not making it through this pandemic in a well state of mind. My anxiety has been higher than it has ever been before, even through so much hardship and my moods have been lower than ever this year. I desperately could use for more regular therapy but cannot afford to get it at this time and my companies do not offer paid sick days or benefits that cover therapy. Will I push through and come out the other side of this pandemic and in extension push through other hardships? Yes. But it will come with a price.

    Have you ever referred to somebody as resilient? If so, what was their response? – I have referred to some of my kids as resilient, but in regards to their physical safety outdoors – parents I have worked with that are over protective and stressed about their children hurting themselves during out door play need to hear that their children are resilient in terms of getting up after falls, but also need to know that their children are vulnerable and NOT resilient to emotional and mental trauma and need to be cared for gently to help them get through those hardships

    Do you feel that the term resilient could demean the conscious efforts of individuals to overcome adversity? – absolutely! Like mentioned before, I feel like resiliency is another word that has been weaponized. Another term that could be used as an example is saying someone is strong and then not helping them (ex: stating that Black women are so strong, but then not providing emotional support, financial support etc to help them not just survive but thrive. The same might be said for the term inspiring for people with disabilities/who have become disabled. Saying someone is soooo inspiring for overcoming adversity might be great but it demeans the rest of their life experiences and the support that they are not receiving that could make them more successful.)

    I think that this conversation about resiliency being the term of the past two years is very important to ensure that our OT clients are not being written off as resilient instead of being provided top quality intervention and ADVOCACY for better


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