Making Sense of Stress, Trauma and Resilience

The Stress Response

One of the most challenging and crucial questions of our time is why some bounce back from adversity, seemingly unscathed, while others fall apart and become emotionally distraught and dysfunctional. Once upon a time and not too long ago, the dominant idea regarding stress is that it is what happened to us that told the story. Sexual abuse had its consequences. Trauma had its crippling effects. Divorce had its fallout. Stress, if sufficient enough, would lead to our undoing. The corollary to this idea is that good experiences (or the absence of adversity) would ultimately lead to emotional health and well-being. It turns out that neither hypothesis holds water. There are too many exceptions to create a rule in either case.

What has become apparent is that it is not what happens to us - good or bad - that explains how we are ultimately affected, but rather something about ourselves that sets the stage for the story that unfolds. But what is this something? Do some have this prerequisite ‘something’ and others not? Or does everyone possess this ‘something’ but it somehow needs to be activated for the potential to be realized?

The Resilience Response

The pieces of the puzzle are finally coming together and the answer is in this remarkable human attribute called ‘resilience’ or the ability to bounce back. Resilience is the ultimate good news story - that stress in itself is not the enemy and that we need not be brought down by the circumstances in our lives. After years of mistaken focus on the stress part of the equation, the focus is now on uncovering the keys that can unlock the amazing human potential to grow through adversity, to thrive under duress, and to bounce back from trauma.

Resilience is probably the most important topic of our time. It holds the answers to emotional health and well-being, to mental illness, to healing and recovery, to prevention, to addiction, and much more. Resilience is not only the best overall prevention but also the best focus for intervention. Resilience should be everyone’s concern, not only the medical and helping professionals, but also educators, parents, and society at large. Resilience is about ourselves and those we are responsible for.

The implications are profound. Instead of treating trauma, disorder and illness, we should be focused on restoring the capacity for resilience. Instead of worrying about what will befall ourselves, or our children, nurturing resilience becomes our best insurance for their well-being in a world that we cannot control.

So where does resilience come from and how are we to make sense of it? The answers lie surprisingly in fresh understandings of emotion, relationship, feelings, play and rest. These pivotal factors have unfortunately been eclipsed by the current prevailing focus on symptoms, syndromes and stress, as well as problem behaviour and dysfunction. The incredible story of emotional health and well-being is not about what has happened to us but rather about what hasn’t happened within us.

stress, Resilience


The construct of resilience, once truly understood, is universal in its application. We all face adversity; no one is immune. Knowing how to foster resilience and recovery should be one of our main conceptual tools for taking care of ourselves and those who depend upon us.

While the focus is on children, the knowledge of resilience has universal application. No person, parent or teacher should be without these understandings. But neither should any helping professionals, as this knowledge informs the helping relationship. As such, it is highly recommended for therapists, social workers, psychologists, counsellors, family workers, physicians, nurses and therapists.


Course Outline

Session One - The Keys to True Resilience

Session Two - Making Sense of Stress

Session Three - Resilience as the Handiwork of Emotion

Session Four - How Safe Relationship can Support Resilience

Session Five - How True Play Sets the Stage for Resilience


Interested in this course?
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Dr. Neufeld, Making Sense of Stress, Trauma and Resilience, Neufeld Institute. Offering in Spring 2023!