Resilience in psychotherapy

The concept of resilience is as old as time and concerns the ability of a material, a person or an ecosystem to return to its original state (from the Latin “resilio” – “return”).

John Bowlby was the first to talk about resilience in the 1980s, although it was Boris Cyrulnik who popularized the term in his book The Ugly Ducks: Resilience. An unhappy childhood does not determine life.

In nature, resilience is said to be the ability of an ecosystem to recover and return to its previous equilibrium after a disaster. In serious physics it would be the capacity of an object to regain its initial shape despite the blows it can receive and despite the efforts that can be made to deform it.

In psychology, resilience is the ability as human beings to adapt positively to adverse situations.. Vulgarly said, it would be more like “wholeheartedly” overcoming something unfavorable and coming out stronger.

From neuroscience, it is understood that resilient people have better emotional balance in stressful situations, with a greater ability to resist pressure. This provides a greater sense of control over any eventuality and a greater ability to face challenges.

    Resilience in psychological therapy

    Obviously, we have to accept the idea that people in therapy are not resilient or do not know they are. Therefore, we will often encounter the opposite case of resilience, with “asylum” people.

    recently some authors oppose “nomic resilience” or the potential capacity of the individual to cope with adversity, in the face of “asylum anomie”, or the belief in being incompetent in the face of adversity without being so.

    How can we use this innate capacity of our brain in therapy? The first thing that always comes to mind is the figure of the “guardian of resilience”, a concept invented by Cyrulnik in 2005 and which would include “these people, bodies, groups, a place, an event, a work of art. who rebirth of psychological development after a trauma, who for the injured are the starting point to try to resume or initiate another type of development, who suffers, has the opportunity to find in his emotional and social context, tutors of resilience with which he can succeed in feeling himself loved unconditionally, in growing and overcoming ”.

    Can the therapist embody this figure in his clinical practice? Obviously, a lot of it will depend on your life experience. In my opinion, in most cases the mere fact of having chosen therapeutic aid as a way of life already makes us somewhat resilient or at least puts us on the path to developing this mechanism within ourselves. This is why, in my humble opinion, every therapist should work in depth with himself.

    Personally, I always frame my therapeutic approach in the following sentence from my personal harvest: “the key to life lies in” making sense of your life “, and that includes making sense of” suffering ” which is also part of your life. “Always understand that understanding and developing a sense of resilience is the key to any psychological healing process.

    Techniques that help overcome adversity

    At Vitalitza, we considered from the start whether, in addition to and beyond classic cognitive-behavioral approaches or any other form of psychoeducation, there is the possibility of strengthen at the neurobiological level the capacity of our brain to respond to adversity.

    And the answer is, in our opinion, yes. And more precisely, we are talking about emotional regulation through neuromodulation and the development of mindfulness.

    Biofeedback and Neurofeedback

    Neuromodulation by bio and neurofeedback optimizes the response of our autonomic and central nervous system when it responds to the environment.

    Biofeedback makes us aware of our autonomous response to stress (Breathing, heart rate, temperature, etc.) and allows us to regulate these constants in a functional and adaptive way. And Neurofeedback, a technique that regulates our brain electrical activity through a second-degree functional conditioning system, optimizes and strengthens our alert response and our ability to integrate stressful and anxious states.

    These two aspects, the ability to regulate our autonomic responses and the optimization and strengthening of our response to the environment at the neurobiological level are basic elements, functionally speaking, of our capacity for resilience.


    Mindfulness is another particularly useful tool in this context. Indeed, many field studies have shown, in line with the contributions of Siegel and Shore, that the practice of mindfulness stimulates and develops the capacity of our brain to functionally integrate secondary tonsillar features into stressful or traumatic events.

    The ability of our brain to cope with the anxiety produced by any painful, frightening or traumatic event is amplified, allowing a more balanced and functional response to them. Speaking in terms of EMDR culture, one could say that the “window of tolerance” in the face of anxiety, fear and stress is widening, with the consequent benefit in terms of emotional balance, a fundamental aspect as we do. ‘ve already said if we are talking about resilience.


    To summarize, in Vitalize, the concept of resilience and the figure of the “resilient tutor” are at the heart of our clinical intervention, especially with adults. This therapeutic approach is always accompanied by emotional regulation techniques, reflected more specifically in Neuromodulation (Biofeedback and Neurofeedback) and Midfulness.

    Author: Javier Elcarte, neuropsychologist, trauma expert, founder and director of Vitalitza.

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