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Culture & Religion

Human Resiliency and Trauma

The attacks of 9/11 changed not only how we engage with the world but what we know about it. In the last ten years, psychology has advanced in its understanding of trauma and resiliency.  

What’s the Latest Development?


Prior to the attacks on 9/11, the popular psychotherapeutic method for counseling individuals who had experienced a traumatic event was known as “debriefing”. The technique which aimed to prevent the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder assumed that it was better for individuals to talk about what they had been through rather than bottling it up. But Harvard psychologist Richard McNally warned against the debriefing cure after 9/11 knowing “that research conducted during the 1990s had shown that debriefing was at best ineffective, and at worst actually slowed people’s recovery.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Psychology’s understanding of trauma and human resiliency became greatly informed by the attacks on 9/11. What McNally discovered in the aftermath of the attacks is that humans are more resilient to trauma than once thought. “They might be shaken, or upset, or scared right after something terrible happens, said Columbia University psychologist George Bonanno, who has conducted resilience research. ‘But as far as trauma, most people are symptom-free….They are able to continue functioning without missing a beat.'” In the years since 9/11, debriefing has fallen out of favor. 


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