Professional Point

Ongoing threats of terrorism, economic woes, media coverage about SARS and lingering effects of war: These are just a few of the factors likely contributing recently to a sense of chronic stress among many Americans. As individuals face multiple stressors in all aspects of their daily lives--at work, school and home--we're finding that psychology has a valuable and timely resource to offer people of all ages and circumstances.

Following the traumatic events of Sept. 11, 2001, APA launched its "Road to Resilience" initiative, part of the association's ongoing public education campaign, "Talk to Someone Who Can Help." Many months later, a combination of research and experience continues to suggest that psychology's various efforts designed to help with building resilience resonate well with the public.

There is no profession better qualified to engage in this effort. As psychologists, we are well aware that resilience involves an ongoing process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or other significant sources of stress. Not only is it a process, but building resilience is further complicated by the importance of personalizing the process. Each individual needs to develop a strategy for building resilience that works for him or her. People under stress, people suffering from depression or people with a serious mental illness all can benefit from building resilience, but there will be important differences in what helps each of these persons to build resilience. Who better than psychologists to help sort through the complexity and nuance underlying the process of developing resilience?

Further, the effects of fostering resilience go far beyond helping people to simply "feel good." Developing resilience skills not only helps reduce stress, but research has made it clear that it also makes people healthier, and may even help individuals live longer.

In his book, "Emotional Longevity" (Viking, 2003), APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD, describes research that shows a connection between relationships and better health and longevity, and between optimism and good health and longevity. Importantly, relationships and optimism are probably the two factors most associated with resilience. Anderson also describes the connection between finding meaning in trauma or tragedy--yet another factor commonly associated with resilience--and longevity.

In addition to the significant beneficial effects of building resilience, our experience with the "Road to Resilience" campaign is that there are many different applications for efforts to build resilience. Our original application grew out of the aftermath of 9/11 and hearing from the public that they didn't just want to "live with" the increased stress and uncertainty brought on by the terrorist attacks. They wanted to "bounce back." Then, as war with Iraq approached, refocused resilience efforts enabled the development of public education campaign activities and efforts specifically targeted for "Resilience in a Time of War." This included four brochures for parents and teachers aimed at helping children in different age groups--preschool, elementary, middle school and high school. In April, with the end of the war, the campaign added "Homecoming: Resilience After Wartime" to help returning military and their families.

Psychologists throughout the country consistently found receptive audiences for psychology's messages about how to build resilience. For example, among the many successful local outreach efforts, psychologists worked with a local television station to record "Resilience Tips of the Day," gave presentations on resilience to local Red Cross chapters and community groups such as the Rotary Club, disseminated APA's materials geared for young children to local preschools and day care centers, and held community forums as well as support groups for military families.

Additional applications of the resilience materials are in the works. APA is collaborating with Time for Kids magazine on a special issue devoted to resilience slated for publication early this fall. Meanwhile, we're taking additional steps focused on building resilience in children. The Practice Directorate's 10th Annual Institute for Psychology in the Schools during the 2003 APA Annual Convention is titled, "Resilience: inoculating children from the inside out."

As a future phase of our resilience initiative, we are refocusing on the theme of workplace stress. Clearly, resilience applies to organizations faced with significant pressures and the related challenge of turning adversity into opportunity.

There are seemingly endless opportunities for psychology to become involved in efforts and activities to help people build resilience. To learn more about the "Road to Resilience" initiative and related APA materials, visit the Help Center, www.helping.apa.org, and the "Public Education Campaign" section of www.apapractice.org.