health may have entered the field of resilience interventions rather late in the game, but its community-based practice orientation and methods for assessing programmatic effectiveness and theoretical construct fidelity can offer powerful tools to this burgeoning field of “interventional resilience.” Lastly, we will explore the inherent challenges of developing evidence-based resilience practices within the context of disasters.
The field of resilience research has evolved in the 50 years since developmental psychologists first began examining what factors contributed to the positive social, emotional, and intellectual growth of children growing up in the face of highly adverse conditions, such as being reared by a schizophrenic parent (Garmezy, 1985; Garmezy et al., 1984) or living in environments of extreme poverty (Masten, 2001). Researchers noted that deficit models that focused on correlations among a child’s personality, environment, and subsequent psychopathology were inadequate frameworks for providing robust explanations of how children developed. The goal was not merely to avoid psychopathology in children, but also to understand how children achieved their cognitive, social, and emotional potential. By contrasting children who were more successful at reaching key developmental milestones despite their adverse circumstances with those who were less successful, effectively illuminating what made them resilient, researchers hypothesized that they could articulate adaptation mechanisms. After these adaptation pathways were understood, the subsequent step would involve developing interventions that stimulated or facilitated these growth processes to encourage better outcomes for more children, regardless of their circumstances.
As a number of scholars have noted, this field of “positive psychology” spawned a short list of factors that were persistently associated with children’s ability to adapt and achieve developmental milestones despite being exposed to chronic and acute adverse conditions (Luthar and Cicchetti, 2000; Luthar et al., 2006; Masten, 2001, 2008; Masten and Obradovic, 2008; Wright et al., 2013). These factors included child-specific characteristics such as good cognitive abilities; positive constructs of self (including self-efficacy and self-control); attitudinal and belief systems that encompassed hopefulness, faith, and a positive worldview; and the ability to form and sustain relationships with parents, peers, and siblings. Studies of American soldiers who were held captive in Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps for extended periods revealed many of the same characteristics of resilience among adults (Yehuda et al., 2006).
Scholars have long noted that children do not grow up in a vacuum, but are embedded in a number of concentric social systems that support and nourish them—notably, their parents, their households, their peers,