Irit Felsen’s presentation at Renaissance Weekend in Jackson Hole

On July 2,  Irit Felsen gave a presentation entitled ” Resilience: Facing Adversity, Living Life Well” at the Renaissance Weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (more details are available at http://www.renaissanceweekend.org/weekends/detail.htm?id=46). A set of slides summarizing the presentation can be downloaded here: IritFelsenatRenaissanceWeekend.pdf

The presentation focused on the different definitions of resilience and on lessons learned from people who have endured difficult experiences as to how we might enhance resilience to traumatic stress but also how to increase well-being in the face of life’s everyday challenges.

While it was believed in the past that trauma is an abnormal experience, this notion has been proven wrong by epidemiological studies in the USA as well as across the globe.  About 50% of women and 60% of men in the general population in the USA are exposed to a traumatic event during their lifetime. Yet, only a minority of those exposed to a traumatic experience develop chronic post traumatic reactions. The presentation discussed how is it that certain people have the capacity to overcome terrible experiences, and even grow from them; what is it that such resilient individuals do, and what can we learn from them about interventions that can be used to enhance resilient capacities.

Different definitions of resilience, as personal traits, as a process or style of coping, and as dependent on factors conferring risk and on protective factors were discussed. The evolution in concepts of resilience was reviewed leading to current models that conceptualize resilience not as an internal characteristic but as embedded in the individual’s environment and capacity to access whatever resources are available in the family, community culture and society. Within this ecological framework, it is now understood that resilience can be present to different degrees, in a single domain or across multiple ones, and that the individual’s resilient capacities can change at different times across the lifespan.

Some salient findings from research into well-being, its psychological correlates and its
relationship to physical health were presented. Empirical findings were highlighted,  suggesting that a sense of purpose and meaningful engagement in life have protective health influences .

Finally, practical exercises that can be implemented for self-care were included. Tips based on well-being research and interventions taken from Positive Psychology, aimed at identifying personal strengths, amplifying positive emotions and strengthening relationships were offered as concrete tools to enhance resilience. Expressive Writing was also included, having been shown to have positive effects for some people in processing traumatic memories and improving the sense of well-being.

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