What is resilience?

Can J Psychiatry. 2011 May;56(5):258-65. doi: 10.1177/070674371105600504.


Objective: While everyone-including front-line clinicians-should strive to prevent the maltreatment and other severe stresses experienced by many children and adults in everyday life, psychiatrists and other health professionals also need to consider how best to support, throughout the lifespan, those people affected by severe adversity. The first step in achieving this is a clear understanding of the definitions and concepts in the rapidly growing study of resilience. Our paper reviews the definitions of resilience and the range of factors understood as contributing to it, and considers some of the implications for clinical care and public health.

Method: This narrative review took a major Canadian report published in 2006 as its starting point. The databases, MEDLINE and PsycINFO, were searched for new relevant citations from 2006 up to July 2010 to identify key papers considering the definitions of resilience and related concepts.

Results: Definitions have evolved over time but fundamentally resilience is understood as referring to positive adaptation, or the ability to maintain or regain mental health, despite experiencing adversity. The personal, biological, and environmental or systemic sources of resilience and their interaction are considered. An interactive model of resilience illustrates the factors that enhance or reduce homeostasis or resilience.

Conclusions: The 2 key concepts for clinical and public health work are: the dynamic nature of resilience throughout the lifespan; and the interaction of resilience in different ways with major domains of life function, including intimate relationships and attachments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological* / classification
  • Adaptation, Psychological* / physiology
  • Adult
  • Behavioral Research
  • Biomedical Research
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Life Change Events
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Mental Disorders / prevention & control
  • Personality / classification*
  • Physician's Role
  • Psychopathology
  • Resilience, Psychological / classification*
  • Social Problems / psychology
  • Social Support*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Terminology as Topic