The concept Resilience or Resiliency has deep roots in social work, although social work research related to it is relatively recent. There is dialogue within the profession as to whether a Resilience Theory exists, or if resiliency is a concept that describes a set or series of person-environment interactions. As social work and related mental health, behavioral, and social science practitioners transitioned from a pathology focus to a strengths perspective, increased attention was paid to personal qualities and social influence that promote or reflect health and well-being. The theoretical driver is not only on what needs to be fixed or change, but what positives can be reinforced. Research related to resiliency focuses on answering the questions “what works?” and “why?”

Two major areas of practice, child development and crisis intervention services, were early areas in which the concept of resiliency were first researched. Initial research questions included, “Why do two children from the same high risk-factor or low supportive environment emerge so differently?” and “Why do some people suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome and others seem to thrive after a major stressor?” Initial research focused on personal qualities, such as “ego strengths,” “hardiness,” “plasticity,” and “survivorship.” Later research expanded perspective on resilience to include not only personal qualities, both inherent and learned, but also ecological factors as well.

Attention to resiliency emerged even as the field of mental health increasingly turned to psychopharmacology as a primary treatment modality. Recognizing that organicity greatly influences behavior and that medications can significantly improve a number of mental illness symptoms, social workers and other mental health professionals also recognize, and research affirms, that “talk therapy” is an essential component to assist persons who suffered from a host of traumas, such as veterans of and prisoners of war, holocaust survivors, refugees, former hostages, and survivors of disasters whether natural, such as earthquakes, or man-made, such as the Oklahoma City, and September 11, 2001 events. Research has focused on helping to determine resilience-based treatment models, as well as to elicit the various components of resilience that need to be elicited and strengthened during child development, crisis prevention training, or post-trauma counseling.

NASW has published several major works featuring social work researchers’ findings related to resilience. In 1999, a special volume of Social Work Research, (23,3) was devoted to the subject. Fraser, Richman & Galinsky’s article “Risk, protection, and resilience: Toward a conceptual framework for social work practice” (pp. 131-143) provides a review and efforts to define the concept of resilience as basic to social work’s approach. Now in its second edition, Fraser’s book Risk and Resilience in Childhood: An Ecological Perspective, (2004) is published by NASW Press. In 2002 the NASW Press published Resilience: An Integrated Approach to Practice, Policy, and Research edited by Roberta R. Greene.

In 2002, the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research co-sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing on Health in a Stressful World at which social work researcher Curtis McMillen spoke on “The Positive By-Products of Adversity” in describing his resilience-related research with survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Two definitions of resilience are citied by Greene

Resilience is the act of rebounding or springing back after being stretched or pressed, or recovering strength, spirit, and good humor.

Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language

The term “resilience” is reserved for unpredicted or markedly successful adaptations to negative life events, trauma, stress, and other forms of risk. If we can understand what helps some people to function well in the context of high adversity, we may be able to incorporate this knowledge into new practice strategies.

Fraser. Richman, & Galinsky, 1999, p. 136

Resilience literature generally affirms that the concept encompasses not merely surviving ; but in addition it includes both thriving and having benefited from the stressor experience. A review of resiliency related publications in Social Work Abstracts between 1978 and 2003 identified 137 abstracts referencing the term, with 23 abstracts alone between 2002 and 2003. Few of the abstracts focus on researching the concept of resilience per se, or on testing an operational theory for engendering resilience. In keeping with the notion of a concept in search of a theory, much of the reported research is qualitative, although several studies do formulate hypotheses testing variables associated with resilience-formation.

Below are two sets of references:

  1. Citations referenced above plus other seminal publications on resilience;
  2. References identified in Social Work Abstracts of articles published between 1978 – 2003 regarding research related to resilience. The search identified the terms “resilience” and “resiliency.” Additional searches used the names of authors known to have published resilience-related research.

These references are not meant to be comprehensive; however, together they show the range of social work arenas in which resilience is a focus, from child development through trauma management, to end-of life care-giving.

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Citations + Related Books

Greene, R.R. (Ed.). (2002). Resilience: An Integrated Approach to Ptactice, Policy, and Research . Washington , DC : NASW Press.

Fraser, M.W., Richman, J.M., & Galinsky, M.J. (1999). Risk, protection, and resilience: Toward a conceptual framework for social work practice. Social Work Research, 23 (3), pp. 131-143.

Fraser, M.W. (2004). Risk and Resilience in Childhood: An Ecological Perspective, 2nd Edition . Washington , DC : NASW Press.

McMillen, J.C. (1999). Better for it: How people benefit from adversity. Social Work, 44 , (5), pp, 455-468.

McMillen, J.C. & Fisher, R.H. (1998). The perceived benefit scales: Measuring perceived positive life changes after negative events. Social Work Research, 22 , (3), pp. 173-186.

Norman, E. (Ed.). (2000). Resiliency Enhancement: Putting the Strengths Perspective into Social Work Practice . New York : Columbia University Press.

Wolin S.J & Wolin, S. (1993). The Resilient Self . New York : Villard Books.

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References Listed In Social Work Abstracts

(Arranged per WEBSPIRS listing, 1978 – 2003)
(n.b. Of the 137 identified through searches as noted above, the following include only those which clearly presented research findings rather than being literature summarization or commentary, or in which the term resilience was used as a descriptive term rather than a construct.)

Ties that protect: an ecological perspective on Latino/a urban pre-adolescent drug use.
AU: Marsiglia-F.F ; Miles-B.W ; Dustman-P ; Sills-S
SO: Journal-of-Ethnic-and-Cultural-Diversity-in-Social-Work. 11(3/4): 191-220, 2002.
Recommendations include social work interventions that support the resiliency characteristics of urban Latino youth in different social contexts such as communities, schools, and families.

Does PTSD differ according to gender among military veterans?
AU: Benda-B.B ; House-H.A
SO: Journal-of-Family-Social-Work. 7(1): 15-34, 2003.
This was a study involving systematic random samples of 225 male and 232 female military veterans respectively that had received services at a VAMC in the South. The purpose was to examine what ecological factors predict a diagnosis of PTSD among those veterans.

Resiliency in family caregivers: implications for social work practice.
AU: Ross-L ; Holliman-D ; Dixon-D.R
SO: Journal-of-Gerontological-Social-Work. 40(3): 81-96, 2003.
A brief survey instrument (the Caregiver Resilience Instrument) was administered to informal caregivers (N = 23) in a rural area in the southeast. Findings from this survey revealed common themes, ranging from identification of the most difficult aspects of caregiving to the benefits of caregiving, as well as ways these caregivers manage stress.

Africentric youth and family rites of passage program: promoting resilience among at-risk African American youths.
AU: Harvey-A.R ; Hill-R.B
SO: Social-Work. 49(1): 65-74, Jan. 2004.
This article examines the effects of an Africentric youth and family rites of passage program on at-risk African American youth and their parents. (This is one of 12 articles in this issue on social work in a multicultural society.).

The myth of “the tangle of pathology”: resilience strategies employed by middle-class African American families.
AU: Carter-Black-J
SO: Journal-of-Family-Social-Work. 6(4): 75-100, 2001.
This pilot study identifies resilience strategies and child-rearing practices employed by African American parents to promote the development of children along achievement-oriented trajectories as they socialize their children to become successful adults.

Adolescent resilience: a concept analysis.
AU: Olsson-C.A ; Bond-L ; Burns-J.M ; Vella-Brodrick-D.A ; Sawyer-S.M
SO: Journal-of-Adolescence. 26(1): 1-11, Feb. 2003.
Literature on resilience published between 1990 and 2000 and relevant to adolescents aged 12-18 was reviewed with the aim of examining the various uses of the term, and commenting on how specific ways of conceptualizing of resilience may help develop new research agendas in the field.

Qualitative contributions to resilience research.
AU: Ungar-M
SO: Qualitative-Social-Work. 2(1): 85-102, Mar. 2003.
Qualitative methods are well suited to the discovery of the unnamed protective processes relevant to the lived experience of research participants; provide thick description of phenomenon in very specific contexts; elicit and add power to minority ‘voices’ which account for unique localized definitions of positive outcomes; promote tolerance for these localized constructions by avoiding generalization but facilitating transferability of results; and, require researchers to account for their biased standpoints.

The impact of political violence: adaptation and identity development in Bosnian adolescent refugees.
AU: Gibson-E.C.
SO: Smith-College-Studies-in-Social-Work. 73(1): 29-50, Nov. 2002.
Because current research on political violence tends to focus on psychopathological outcomes and PTSD sequelae, particular attention was given to examining cultural meanings of trauma and development, as well as the health-promoting forces that can occur in response to extreme trauma.

Resilient children: what they tell us about coping with maltreatment.
AU: Henry-D.L.
SO: Social-Work-in-Health-Care. 34(3/4): 283-298, 2001.
[Through qualitative methods] common patterns that emerged as five themes showing a progression of skills used by adolescents who were maltreated as children. These are: loyalty to parents, normalizing of the abusive environment, establishing a sense of safety through a perception of invisibility to the abuser, self value, and a future view. This research adds important knowledge to the body of practice skills in working with abusing families.

Holocaust survivors: a study in resilience.
AU: Greene-R.R.
SO: Journal-of-Gerontological-Social-Work. 37(1): 3-18, 2002.
This study presents the results of qualitative interviews .(on).how each survivor met untoward circumstances during this time of crisis. Suggestions are made for how social workers can use this knowledge to promote client resilience and coping strategies.

Resilience in the face of maternal psychopathology and adverse life events.
AU: Tiet-Q.Q ; Bird-H.R ; Hoven-C.W ; Wu-P ; Moore-R ; Davies-M
SO: Journal-of-Child-and-Family-Studies. 10(3): 347-365, Sept. 2001.
On average children exhibited a greater degree of resilience when they had higher IQ, closer parental monitoring, better family functioning, higher educational aspiration, and were female.

Resilience and social work practice: three case studies.
AU: Turner-S.G.
SO: Families-in-Society. 82(5): 441-448, Sept.-Oct. 2001.
The author describes three case vignettes that illustrate how therapists and clients working together in a resilience framework can discover and bolster strengths that can lead to more enhanced and satisfying lives.

Recovery: resistance and resilience in female incest survivors.
AU: Anderson-K.M.
Dissertation: Univ. of Kansas , PhD, May 2001.
A theory of resilience as it applies to adult incest survivors was developed based on five themes that emerged from the interviews. These themes included resistance to: (a) being powerless; (b) being silenced; (c) doing harm to others; (d) being isolated; and (e) being consumed by the aftereffects. For adult survivors, stories that exemplify their resistance help in coming to see themselves as resilient and provide a more comprehensive understanding to the many dimensions of their incest experiences.

Resilience in ecosystemic context: evolution of the concept .
AU: Waller-M.A.
SO: American-Journal-of-Orthopsychiatry. 71(3): 290-297, July 2001.
The evolution of the resilience literature across diverse social science disciplines over the past two decades is reviewed and a synthesis of recent findings is offered, suggesting that resilience is a multidetermined and ever-changing product of interacting forces within a given ecosystemic context.

Power in the people: strengths and hope.
AU: Saleebey-D
SO: Advances-in-Social-Work. 1(2): 127-136, Fall 2000.
AB: The strengths perspective and resilience literature suggest that social workers may learn from those people who survive and in some cases flourish in the face of oppression, illness, demoralization, and abuse. Social workers need to know what steps these natural survivors have taken, what processes they have adopted, and what resources they have used.

The relationship of constructive aggression to resilience in adults who were abused as children.
AU: Cirillo-I
Dissertation: Smith College , PhD, Aug. 2000.
On quantitative measures, use of constructive aggressive strategies in childhood was positively related to all measures of adult resilience. Thematic analysis of the interviews of the most resilient and the least resilient participants revealed that high resilient participants used less destructive aggression and predominantly relied on constructive aggression strategies.

Constructive narrative in arresting the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder.
AU: Norman-J
SO: Clinical-Social-Work-Journal. 28(3): 303-319, Fall 2000.
The author shares examples of language and communication given by clients in the adaptive description of traumatic experiences that form the foundation of ongoing healing.

The impact of family of origin on social workers from alcoholic families.
AU: Coombes-K ; Anderson-R
SO: Clinical-Social-Work-Journal. 28(3): 281-302, Fall 2000.
In the case of social workers who are adult children of alcoholics, the authors argue that being part of an alcoholic family may significantly contribute to, rather than detract from, later practice competence.

Social/emotional intelligence and midlife resilience in schoolboys with low tested intelligence.
AU: Vaillant-G.E ; Davis-J.T
SO: American-Journal-of-Orthopsychiatry. 70(2): 215-222, Apr. 2000.
Although childhood social disadvantage did not distinguish the groups with low and high IQs, half of the low-IQ men enjoyed incomes as high and had children as well-educated as did the high IQ men. These resilient low-IQ men were more likely to be generative, to use mature defenses, and to enjoy warm object relations than the high IQ group as a whole.

Perceiving oppression: relationships with resilience, self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and reliance on God in African American homeless men.
AU: Littrell-J ; Beck-E
SO: Journal-of-Sociology-and-Social-Welfare. 26(4): 137-158, Dec. 1999.
Two studies sought to determine the impact that recognition of oppression has on a disadvantaged individual’s (1) self-esteem; (2) level of depressive symptoms; (3) resilience that includes a sense of mastery and optimism; (4) anger; and (5) reliance on God. These issues were investigated in a sample of African American men seeking services at a soup kitchen ministry. Perceptions of racial discrimination were marginally associated with attenuated levels of depressive symptoms.. (B)elief in a just world was associated with some aspects of resilience and stronger reliance on God. Practitioners endeavoring to empower should be cautious about impairing clients’ belief in a just world or undermining a sense of personal control over events.

Clinical applications of the CASPARS instruments: boys who act out sexually .
AU: Gilgun-J.F ; Keskinen-S ; Marti-D.J ; Rice-K
SO: Families-in-Society. 80(6): 629-641, Nov.-Dec. 1999.
This article, part two of a two-part series, demonstrates the uses of the Clinical Assessment Package for Risks and Strengths (CASPARS), newly developed clinical rating scales that incorporate research on resilience and social work’s strengths perspectives.

CASPARS: new tools for assessing client risks and strengths.
AU: Gilgun-J.F.
SO: Families-in-Society. 80(5): 450-459, Sept.-Oct. 1999.
This article is part one of the two-part series on the Clinical Assessment Package for Assessing Client Risks and Strengths (CASPARS), a newly developed set of five instruments that gave equal consideration to client strengths and risks. The instruments are Family Relationships, Emotional Expressiveness, Family Embeddedness in Community, Peer Relationships, and Sexuality.

Promoting resilience in urban African American adolescents: racial socialization and identity as protective factors.
AU: Miller-D.B ; MacIntosh-R
SO: Social-Work-Research. 23(3): 159-169, Sept. 1999. Findings suggest that significant interaction does occur among stressors and protective factors in such a manner that they enhance educational involvement.

Better for it: how people benefit from adversity.
AU: McMillen-J.C.
SO: Social-Work. 44(5): 455-467, Sept. 1999.
Researchers in several different fields have discovered that people who have experienced seriously adverse events frequently report that they were positively changed by the experience. Thinking about benefits may help survivors of traumatic events process painful information. This article offers guidance on how to introduce and manage benefit content within a therapeutic relationship and encourages social workers to cautiously reflect clients’ unstated benefits, encourage self-assessments in areas where benefits may accrue, explore any benefits discovered, and help clients plan for positive changes. This process converges well with the strengths perspective and constructivist approaches to social work practice. (Journal abstract.)

Risk, protection, and resilience: toward a conceptual framework for social work practice.
AU: Fraser-M.W ; Richman-J.M ; Galinsky-M.J
SO: Social-Work-Research. 23(3): 131-143, Sept. 1999.
(T)his special issue of Social Work Research highlights social work research that uses the concepts of risk, protection, and resilience. In this introductory article, the authors define key terms, discuss methodological issues, and explore implications for the profession.

“Making it”: the components and process of resilience among urban, African-American, single mothers.
AU: Brodsky-A.E.
SO: American-Journal-of-Orthopsychiatry. 69(2): 148-160, Apr. 1999.
In contrast to the bulk of research on urban single mothers that focuses on risk and negative outcomes, this qualitative study of 10 resilient mothers living in risky neighborhoods uses the women’s own words to conceptualize resilience as an ongoing process of balancing risk and protective factors in eight domains.

Restructuring resilience: emerging voices.
AU: Bachay-J.B ; Cingel-P.A
SO: AFFILIA-Journal-of-Women-and-Social-Work. 14(2): 162-175, Summer 1999.
AB: This study presents a qualitative analysis of the subjective voice of minority women in which the women revealed three constitutional factors that enhanced their resilience: strong measures of self-efficacy, well-defined faith lives, and the ability to reframe barriers and obstacles.

Social worker trauma: building resilience in child protection social workers.
AU: Horwitz-M
SO: Smith-College-Studies-in-Social-Work. 68(3): 363-377, June 1998.
Resilience theories are relied upon to develop strategies for promoting optimal effectiveness of social workers who remain exposed to potentially traumatizing events.

Resilience among social workers: a cross-cultural study of Americans and Israelis.
AU: Amrani-Cohen-I.R.
Dissertation: Boston College , PhD, Dec. 1998.
Research methods include a review of the resiliency literature, descriptive statistics, and multivariate analyses of data derived from a 1993 survey of 1,100 American and Israeli social workers. Identified were the characteristics associated with levels of job resilience among social workers in both countries. Outlined were policy implications for social work education, training and employment.

Risk and resilience in late adolescence.
AU: Carbonell-D.M ; Reinherz-H.Z ; Giaconia-R.M
Child-and-Adolescent-Social-Work-Journal. 15(4): 251-272, Aug. 1998.
The phenomenon of resilience was examined among the at-risk adolescents with no diagnosis, revealing that family cohesion and social support are associated with resilience.

The Perceived Benefit Scales: measuring perceived positive life changes after negative events.
AU: McMillen-J.C ; Fisher-R.H
SO: Social-Work-Research. 22(3): 173-187, Sept. 1998.
If social work researchers are to accurately describe the psychosocial functioning of clients who experience negative events, they need to consider positive as well as negative outcomes. In this article, new measures of self-reported positive life changes after traumatic stressors are introduced. Factor analyses suggest that the Perceived Benefit Scales consist of eight subscales: lifestyle changes; material gain; and increases in self-efficacy, family closeness, community closeness, faith in people, compassion, and spirituality.

Assessing resilience in adults with histories of childhood sexual abuse.
AU: Liem-J.H ; James-J.B ; O’Toole-J.G ; Boudewyn-A.C
SO: American-Journal-of-Orthopsychiatry. 67(4): 594-606, Oct. 1997.
Characteristics of both the individual and the early family environment distinguished resilient from nonresilient abuse survivors, as did the physically coercive nature of the abuse experience.

Resilience in late adolescence: young people at risk who have positive functioning .
AU: Carbonell-D.M.
Dissertation: Simmons College , PhD, Apr. 1996.
The study also examined aspects of “resilience” among the group with no diagnosis by comparing the family environments and social support networks of those who were functioning particularly well to the remaining adolescents with no diagnosis. Differences emerged among the three “diagnostic” groups. .Differences were also found in the family environments and perceptions of social support among the resilient and comparison subgroups. The resilient group reported greater family cohesion and higher satisfaction with social support.

Risk and resilience in adjustment to sickle cell disease: integrating focus groups, case reviews, and quantitative.
AU: Barbarin-O.A.
SO: Journal-of-Health-and-Social-Policy. 5(3/4): 97-121, 1994.
The results provide a basis for speculating about the process of adjustment to illness and the value of a family approach to psychosocial intervention.

From surviving to thriving: the complex experience of living in public housing.
AU: O’Brien-P
SO: AFFILIA-Journal-of-Women-and-Social-Work. 10(2): 155-78, Summer 1995.
Interviews with 12 African American women who were long-term residents of a public housing complex and were engaged in tenant management activities found that obstacles in the complex reinforced their resilience, and that their roles as mothers and their adherence to spiritual beliefs gave their lives meaning.

Resilience at the front lines: hospital social work with AIDS patients and burnout.
AU: Egan-M
SO: Social-Work-in-Health-Care. 18(2): 109-25, 1993.
Findings challenge the assumption that burnout is primarily an organizationally induced phenomenon and affirm the influence of workers’ self and world views on burnout. Hospital administrators, social work directors, and educators are encouraged to foster workers’ sense of mastery and self-esteem to prevent burnout.

Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms.
AU: Rutter-M
SO: American-Journal-of-Orthopsychiatry. 57(3): 316-31, July 1987.
The notion of resilience is concerned with individual variations in response to risk: some people succumb to stress and adversity, whereas others overcome life hazards. Moreover, individuals who cope successfully at one point in their lives may react differently at another point. Four main processes or mechanisms affect resilience: (1) reduction of the impact of the risk factor through either alteration of the risk or alteration of exposure, (2) reduction of negative chain reactions, (3) establishment and maintenance of self-esteem and self-efficacy, and (4) opening up of opportunities.

Coping behavior of elderly flood victims.
AU: Huerta-F ; Horton-R
SO: Gerontologist. 18(6): 541-46, 1978.
[In data from total of 387 flood victims] Education correlated poorly with indices of deprivation and anxiety. Findings revealed that respondents viewed the threat of disaster as an ever-present aspect of living. The elderly victims of the flood did not show excessive feelings of personal disorganization as a result of losing their home and possessions. Comparisons between those over age 65 and those under age 65 revealed that older persons were less adversely affected by the disaster than the younger respondents. Resilience and fortitude were much more apparent among the elderly than among younger respondents who expressed more despair.

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August 1st, 2004 at 9:17 am

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