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Hope and Resilience Are Distinct Contributors to Survivor Well-Being


The purpose of this post is to provide a direct response to Cheryl Step’s “Resilience: The Foundation of Hope.”  First, we do not object to the term resilience in everyday conversation. However, in the research and practice literature, resilience (or resiliency) has suffered from a myriad of inconsistent definitions and conceptualizations that leave researchers and professionals with uncertainty about what it means to guide practice.  We notice Cheryl considers resilience using several other concepts (trust, safe and supportive others, reductions in toxic stress, executive functioning/regulation skills, etc).  Cheryl is not alone in using resilience in an idiosyncratic way; in fact, the difficulty we have with resilience as a practice model is its lack of a consistent definition.  The ambiguity in the definition of resilience has led some to conclude that resilience has “…become an empty word that can be filled with almost any meaning (van Breda, 2018).  Perhaps the only consistency when we speak of resilience is that whatever it is, it is good.

What is Hope and Why is it Important?

Aa noted, the central difficulty with resilience as a practice paradigm is the wide variety of ways resilience is defined. Hope does not suffer the same weakness.  According to hope theorist C.R. Snyder, hope is the cognitive processes of goal-directed thinking including the ability to identify and set pathways to desired goals, and to focus agency (mental energy) in those pathway pursuits.  Over 2,000 published research show that hopeful children and adult are more likely to thrive physically, psychologically, and socially.

At the University of Oklahoma’s Hope Research Center, we study hope as a potential coping resource important to the well-being in children, adults, families, who have experienced adversity and trauma.  The published research supports that hope (1) is a psychological strength leading to positive outcomes, (2) buffers adversity and stress, and (3) can be learned for both children and adults.

Is Resilience the Foundation of Hope?

We share an interest in understanding the relationship between resilience and hope. As scientists, we chose to answer this question empirically. First, as we noted in the introduction, we discovered there are no standard definitions of resilience or how it is measured.  This posed the same problem for us as it does practitioners when it comes to understanding how to promote resilience. Second, we arrived on the measurement of resilience with the Brief Resilience Scale, (BRS) which measures resilience as an executive function of self-control. Notably, a definition of resilience in contrast to how Cheryl defines resilience. Finally, using a hope scale and the BRS, we found hope was the stronger predictor of childhood trauma survivor well-being compared to resilience. The full results of the study are found in our 2019 publication in the peer-review journal Traumatology and includes an extensive description of the differences between hope and resilience beyond what we can describe here.

Does Resilience Precede Hope in Survivor Well-Being?

Throughout her post, Cheryl argues that resilience must come before hope.  At the conclusion of her post, Cheryl states, “Resilience builds the foundation for the exploration of hope.”  Published empirical research simply does not support this conclusion.  In fact, studies show hope as the direct predictor of resilience (cf., Yildirim & Arslam, 2020).  Our own longitudinal research (currently under peer-review for publication) shows that hope leads to resilience on the pathway to trauma survivor well-being.  At the end of the day, the body of evidence shows that hope (the belief the future will be better) is the mindset that drives resilient behaviors.

Hope As A Social Gift.

Continuing with Cheryl’s argument that resilience precedes hope is the incorrect presumption that hope only comes from within the individual and that social supports have little to no role to play in nurturing hope.  Once again, the data suggests otherwise. Hope is nurtured in trusted social connections (i.e., supportive caregivers, social service providers, teachers, mentoring programs, therapeutic alliance, etc.).  In fact, we have worked with Camp HOPE America to develop hope-based intervention curriculum that center on developing supportive relationships as pathways to children’s goals. The published research from Camp HOPE indicate that supportive others play a central role in driving the hope among high ACE children.

Hope During Adversity and Stress.

Even those in a state of survival and high stress are considering goals (albeit short-term survival goals, such as “how do I get food” or “how can I get to protection and safety”) and the available pathways to pursue those goals. In the survival mindset, individuals are constantly scanning their environment and considering viable pathways to meet their goals, even if those pathways are driven by desperation and are potentially dysfunctional.  The good news is that hope is a psychological strength that can be learned and enhanced.  It is our contention the science of hope offers a guiding framework that can be used across multiple disciplines in responding to childhood adversity and promoting well-being.

Our view of the importance of hope to coping with trauma is supported by a pioneer of ACEs research, who in his consideration of Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life (Co-Authored by Casey Gwinn and Chan Hellman), Dr Vincent Feliitti states, “The potential benefit of implementing the science of hope throughout society is enormous if we truly want to meet the needs of the currently unrecognized multitudes of trauma-exposed adults and children.”

Hope as An Individual and Institutional Practice Model.

Hope offers a simple framework, that enjoys a common definition and a robust body of evidence lending itself to the development of easy-to-use intervention modalities to help trauma survivors.  We have published several studies showing how childhood adversity and trauma can reduce our capacity to hope (rumination, insecure attachments, PTSD, anxiety).  We have also published numerous studies showing that hope can be nurtured and restored through simple strategies.  This research is the foundation of the larger Hope Centered and Trauma Informed® curriculum we are using to train human service organizations, school districts, law enforcement agencies, judges and other officers of the courts, etc. across several US states and internationally.

In addition to understanding the impact of individual hope during adversity and stress, we also conduct research on the role of collective hope in organizations and institutions that respond to those impacted by trauma and adversity. In this research, we have published studies showing individual and collective hope as a buffer to secondary traumatic stress, burnout, and turnover among practitioners.  As a result of this evidence, we argue that hope provides a simple framework for practitioners, and even policy makers, to better understand their role in helping trauma survivors. In short, to be and/or provide credible pathways to survivor’s goals.

The trauma informed care movement has made clear the importance of organizations, programs, policies, and systems establishing an orientation to the needs of those who have been exposed to adversity and trauma.  However, any effort to implement trauma-informed activities across the institution must have made a difference for those children, adults, and families being served. Our research shows that hope offers a practice model that is measurable and can be operationalized not just for individuals but within institutions.  Given the robust evidence, we believe practitioners and institutions can and must intentionally work to become hope centered and trauma informed.

Chan M. Hellman, PhD; Angela B. Pharris, PhD, MSW; Ricky T. Munoz, JD, MSW


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As I stated in the first line of my article, I respect and appreciate the research and science of Hope and think people should learn about Chan Hellman's work. The above article is a wonderful, supportive summary of his research.

My previous article also acknowledged the research of Dr. Bruce Perry, Margaret Blaustein, Kristin Kinniburgh and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University who emphasize the need for felt safety, trusting relationships (social support) and regulation skills before increasing/building executive functions (including inhibitory control or “self control”) that allows for other competency skills to fully develop.

I believe we all want the same thing... to use trauma informed practices to help people thrive.

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