25th January 02:30
News Flash! Psychologists discover that some people are resilient after extremely aversive events! (psychotherapy)
News Flash! Psychologists discover that some people are resilient
after extremely aversive events!
In an article titled "Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience" published in
the January, 2004, issue of American Psychologist, professor George
Bonanno says "Many people are exposed to loss or potentially traumatic
events at some point in their lives, and yet they continue to have
positive emotional experiences...loss and trauma theorists have often
viewed this type of resilience as either rare or pathological." The
author challenges these assumptions and asserts "that resilience in
the face of loss or potential trauma is more common than is often
To avoid any misunderstanding, I want to emphasize that I agree with
the three main points Bonanno makes in his article:
1. Resiliency is different then recovery from emotional trauma.
2. Resiliency is common.
3. There are multiple and sometimes unexpected pathways to resilience.
I hope you will f****ve the dramatic beginning to this e-letter, but I
have strong mixed feelings about Bonanno's article. One of my
reactions is "Wow! I never thought I'd see the day!" (That comes from
my mother.) Another is: "What took you so long!" And a third, more
modern response, is: "Well, duh!!!"
I've spent years trying to awaken psychologists from their belief
system that everyone has symptoms of mental illness, and have
challenged their self-serving assumptions that any person going
through extreme adversity must be emotionally traumatized and needs
Here are two examples: In January 9, 1977, my local Sunday paper
published an article by a reporter sent to find out why my workshop on
"How to Keep a Positive Attitude in Negative Situations" was such a
huge success. During the interview I told him I that in 1965 I had
completed a doctoral program in psychology to enter the mental health
profession, but had received no courses or lectures on mental health.
All my courses were about mental illness. "Most psychology and
psychiatry is based on what's wrong with people," I said. "I couldn't
relate to that." I told him about my research to understand amazing
survivors made stronger by adversity.
As word about my research spread, I receiving more and more requests
to speak and do workshops on the survivor personality.
Three years later, on January 27, 1980, the Sunday newspaper published
my article on "The Survivor Personality." I began it
asking "Have you ever wondered why some people are made stronger by
adversity? Wondered how it is that some people handle
life better than others?" The article became the most requested
reprint of any article the paper ever published. (If you want copies
of the two articles, send a SASE to me at The Resiliency Center, P.O.
Box 505, Portland, OR 97207.)
You can probably understand why I was startled, after I decades of
teaching and writing about survivor resiliency and having no success
getting mainstream psychologists to give up their erroneous negative
assumptions about people, to suddenly find an article in the official
magazine of the American Psychology Association saying, "We have found
that some people thrive after extremely averse events instead of being
I'll share a private image this brings up for me. It is as though a
paranoid group of people has cloistered themselves in a castle for
many years believing they are surrounded by throngs of people infected
with invisible diseases. Then one day a curious man wipes off a
window, peers out, and says to the others, "Look! Some of them aren't
sick!" At the same time, I can understand why the consensus reality in
clinical psychology has been to "pathologize" (find symptoms of mental
illness or disease) almost everyone. A major study was published in
the 1960's in which several thousand adults, selected by random
sampling methods, were evaluated by psychiatrists. In this study,
81.5% of the people were found to have symptoms of mental illness. The
remaining 18.5% were described "as free of other than inconsequential
symptoms and can be regarded as essentially well." This study has
never been challenged or refuted. It validated how the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association provides
the basis for finding symptoms of mental illness in any person seeing
So, it is understandable why it has taken mainstream psychologists
many decades to even begin to question their professional consensus
reality that everyone going through extreme adversity must be
Meanwhile, the average person knows this isn't true. For example, in
the weeks following the 9/11 disaster in New York City, no one went to
the tent set up by the New York Psychiatric Association offering free
And in some ways the 9/11 terrorist attack nudged psychologists to
start thinking about human resiliency. A special TV program a year
later, co-sponsored by the APA and the Discovery TV channel was titled
"Aftermath: The Road to Resiliency."
It is ironic, by the way, that while mainstream psychologists have had
no interest in my resiliency research findings, the Discovery channel
producers contacted me and placed my "How Resilient Are You?"
self-assessment at their website as a resource for the program
My advantage in my teaching is knowing that most people have an inborn
the ability to learn how to be very resilient and can gain strength
from adversity. While I feel sad that it has taken psychologists so
long to see this human strength, I feel glad that their awareness is
My book manuscript about how to use the science of resiliency to
develop the art of resiliency is progressing well. If you send mea
resiliency story I use in the book you will receive a free autographed
copy when it is published.
Wishing you a great 2004!
p.s. My only resiliency workshop open to the public this spring is
being offered by the Professional Development Center at Portland State
Fee $185, includes handouts, latest resiliency booklet, and free
parking. Class size is limited. To register call: 503-725-4820. --As
always -- We do not and will not rent, sell, or release your personal
information. If you would like to be removed from our list, please
send an email to us at : firstname.lastname@example.org.
....give hugs, relax, take naps, and have a happy heart!
Al Siebert, Ph.D.,
author of The Survivor Personality
Director of The Resiliency Center