International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

President's Message - Resilience: A Daily Practice?

Posted 18 March 2013 in StressPoints by Karestan C. Koenen, PhD


"Every day I choose healing and forgiveness.”
                                            –Amanda Lindhout

Amanda Lindhout was a freelance journalist covering the crisis in Somalia, when on August 23, 2008, she was kidnapped by teenage criminals and held hostage for 460 days. Amanda was released only after her family paid the kidnapper’s ransom demands. She has spoken publically about being shackled and locked in a shed, tortured and beaten, and more recently about being raped. Following her release in 2009, Amanda became an empassioned advocate for the Somali people, and in May 2010 established The Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to igniting leadership through educational and community-based empowerment programs.

Amanda embodies the theme of the ISTSS 2013 Annual Meeting, ‘Resilience: From Surviving to Thriving.” The Program Co-chairs, Ananda Amstadter, Nicole Nugent and I are honored that Amanda will be our opening plenary speaker on Wednesday evening. I hope everyone will join us for what promises to be a truly inspirational experience.

Resilience is a challenging construct for me. As a researcher and clinician, I know how to measure posttraumatic stress disorder. But resilience always seems slippery and complicated. I recognize that my view of resilience has largely been shaped by my early research experience with Dr. Mary Harvey at Victims of Violence Program at Cambridge Health Alliance and Dr. Frances Grossman at Boston University. Both viewed resilience as multi-dimensional. That is, trauma survivors could not easily be categorically classified as ‘resilient’ or ‘not-resilient.’ Rather, resilience varies across domains and over the life course. This definition of resilience has always resonated with me. However, resilience has not been the focus of my work since then.

Research, theory and practice in the area of resilience have exploded in the past decade. I am particularly looking forward to the ISTSS 29th Annual Meeting because I have many questions and a lot to learn.

When I spoke to Amanda in January, I asked her how she survived such extreme trauma and then found the compassion to make peace and development in Somalia her life’s work. She replied, “Every day I choose healing and forgiveness.”


Since our conversation, I have found myself repeatedly reflecting on that statement. I wonder if resilience is, perhaps in part, a daily practice. In a recent interview, Amanda described how she continues to suffer from severe posttraumatic stress and is afraid of the dark and loud noises. She discussed working with therapists and nutritionists to put her physical and emotional self back together.

Her courage is apparent in her choosing to confront reminders of her trauma every day in her work in Somalia. It seems to me, Amanda makes resilience a daily practice.

The choice to practice healing and forgiveness is quite a radical one in today’s world. Since my conversation with Amanda, I wonder how my life might be different were I to choose healing and forgiveness. I will admit, the answers that have come to me are not comfortable, but they do feel important.

Amanda’s plenary will open a meeting that we see as an opportunity to embrace next steps of understanding the many potential trajectories of health following traumatic exposure, from the development of persistent stress-related disorders to posttraumatic growth. Ananda, Nicole and I hope the program this year will bring together work on resilience from across disciplines, and will provide a roadmap for a field that knows not only how to help those who have been exposed to trauma to survive, but also to thrive.

I also hope the Annual Meeting will provide an opportunity for us to think together, as a Society, about how ISTSS may support resilience among its members and the broader communities they serve. In fact, Goal 3 of the ISTSS Strategic Plan, is Societal Impact: ISTSS contributes to the health and resilience of people and communities in the face of traumatic events. 

What are we doing to meet this goal? What should we be doing?

I look forward to seeing you there.