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Pediatrics. 2008 Feb;121(2):369-75. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-1648.

The human capacity to thrive in the face of potential trauma.

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  • 1Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 W 120th St, New York, NY 10027, USA.


For decades, researchers have documented remarkable levels of resilience in children who were exposed to corrosive early environments, such as those in which poverty or chronic maltreatment were present; however, relatively little research has examined resilience in children or adults who were exposed to isolated and potentially traumatic events. The historical emphasis on psychological and physiologic dysfunction after potentially traumatic events has suggested that such events almost always produce lasting emotional damage. Recent research, however, has consistently shown that across different types of potentially traumatic events, including bereavement, serious illness, and terrorist attack, upward of 50% of people have been found to display resilience. Research has further identified substantial individual variation in response to potentially traumatic events, including 4 prototypical and empirically derived outcome trajectories: chronic dysfunction, recovery, resilience, and delayed reactions. Factors that promote resilience are heterogeneous and include a variety of person-centered variables (eg, temperament of the child, personality, coping strategies), demographic variables (eg, male gender, older age, greater education), and sociocontextual factors (eg, supportive relations, community resources). It is surprising that some factors that promote resilience to potentially traumatic events may be maladaptive in other contexts, whereas other factors are more broadly adaptive. Given the growing evidence that resilience is common, psychotherapeutic treatment should be reserved for those in genuine need.

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