Resilience vs. Recovery Q&A

The terms “resilience” and “trauma recovery” have often been used interchangeably within psychology literature. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that the two are very different and shed light on distinct and separate trauma responses and processes. This fact sheet will highlight the differences among these two concepts and contribute to an ongoing discussion about strategies for fostering resilience and supporting trauma recovery.

What is resilience and how is it different from trauma recovery?
Resilience is often described as an innate characteristic that many are born with and others aren’t however this is not the case resilience can be learned. Resilience is really the ability of the individual to adjust and adapt well when faced with loss, tragedy, toxic stress, abuse, etc. Those who possess resilient characteristics are able to continue to function in spite of the adversity they’ve faced. This does not mean that they have not experienced intense emotions surrounding their traumatic events; however it does mean that they were able to cope and maintain their ability to function at their baseline with “minimal disruption” (Alim, Feder, Graves, et al, 2008). Some of the factors that contribute to resilience in children are having a history of healthy and supportive relationships with adults, having a basic trust for those around them, being able to identify positive role models, and an overall positive view of the self. Other factors that are often identified as being connected to resilient outcomes are an ability to cope with change, sense of motivation and the ability to identify life goals, and age appropriate problem solving skills, age appropriate communication skills, and age appropriate emotional regulation/coping skills.
Resilience is different from trauma recovery because recovery suggests that there has been a symptomatic period that has been significant and debilitating in some way, so much so, that intervention was needed to restore the individual’s ability to function at their baseline.
How can parents and other supportive adults teach resilience?
  • Offer children choices whenever possible
  • Create and follow routines whenever possible
  • Connect children to peers and role models with similar interests
  • Practice Problem solving, emotional regulation, and adapting to change
  • Teach realistic goal planning strategies (i.e. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/reasonable, and time limited)
  • Encourage children engage in new experiences
  • BE A MODEL! Show the child what it looks like to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and let them know that change does not have to be catastrophic!
What can parents and other supportive adults do to support trauma recovery?
  • Name the abuse…create a safe space for the child to discuss the incidents that occurred and explore the emotions surrounding the trauma. Keeping things secret intensifies feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Explore the child’s perception of the incident and sense of responsibility
  • Provide education about their role as a survivor of trauma and their ability to recover
  • Allow them to mourn (i.e. loss of a person, home, their childhood, etc.)
  • Encourage future oriented discussion (i.e. goals, how things will improve over time, etc.)
  • Teach and practice relaxation and grounding techniques to increase the child’s self- awareness and impulse control
  • Return to safe routines and rituals whenever possible
  • Encourage active coping skills (i.e. creating a plan to address emotional needs, reframing one’s thoughts that could be potentially harmful and debilitating, etc.)
  • Instill HOPE!


Alim, T. N., MD, Feder, A., MD, & Graves, R. E., Ph.D., et AL (december 2008). Trauma, Resilience, and Recovery in a High-Risk African-American Population. Am J Psychiatry,165(12), 1566-1575. Retrieved May 31, 2017, from

Frawley-O’Dea, M. G. (may 2016). There is hope for survivors to heal. National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved June 2, 2017, from

Mancini, A. D., & Bonanno, G. A. (2006). Resilience in the face of potential trauma: Clinical practices and illustrations. Journal of Clinical Psychology,62(8), 971-985. doi:10.1002/jclp.20283