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Book Review
Vulnerability, Resilience and Adaptation
to Adverse Developmental Experiences

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2001-2

Review of:

Resilience and Development: Positive life adaptation

by : Meyer D. Glantz and Jeanette L. Johnston (eds) (1999)

New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishing.
ISBN: 0-306-46123-4

Reviewed by: Douglas Paton
School of Psychology,
Massey University
New Zealand
Email: D.Paton@massey.ac.nz

The contents of this volume are based on a conference entitled "The Role of Resilience in Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, and Mental Illness", which took place in December 1994. The volume comprises papers that were derived from presentations delivered during the conference and papers that were written specifically for inclusion in this volume. The chapters are linked by a common theme of asking why it is that at least some people can resist the detrimental influences that result in others succumbing to substance abuse and mental health problems. The concept of resilience is evoked for this purpose.

Collectively, the contributions to this volume can be described in terms of their focus on emphasising what is being done to shift from a medical, pathologically-orientated model to one focusing on the factors and mechanisms that underpin an ability to resist the influence of adverse risk factors on development or to “bounce back” following exposure to such risk factors. However, given this focus it is ironic that the transdisciplinary study of risk, resilience, assets, vulnerability and protective factors has been labelled “developmental psychopathology” rather than utilising a label that is either neutral in relation to outcomes or, preferably, which emphasises the positive and growth aspects of this field of endeavour.

This book is aimed at an audience characterised by their existing interest in resilience as it relates to human development in relation to substance abuse. The comprehensive and critical nature of the contributions lessens its applicability to those interested in gaining an initial understanding of this topic. Collectively the contributors are seeking to provide a knowledge and intervention base that will allow resilience characteristics to be taught or in other ways made available to others. While several definitions are alluded to throughout the text, the definition used most frequently follows that proposed by Masten, Best and Garmezy (1990) which defines resilience as " a process, capacity or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenges or threatening circumstances" (P. 426).

The volume is subdivided into four sections, each of which provides a critical appraisal and reappraisal of salient conceptual, measurement, methodological and intervention issues. The first section addresses issues relating to the concept of resilience. The second focuses on the measurement of resilience. The third focuses on the application of resilience, and the fourth addresses future issues deserving of researcher and practitioner attention. Of particular importance is the developmental stance adopted by contributors. This approach assists the reader to appreciate the need for complex longitudinal modelling and methodological approaches and provides a more extensive framework within which systematic intervention can be planned and delivered within the limits of current levels of knowledge and expertise. Considering this phenomenon as a developmental process emphasises both the emergence of resilience over time as the person interacts with complex and dynamic social and cultural environments, how it changes over time, and how the salience of the factors within and between persons change over the course of development. More work remains to be done to map the course of social and cognitive development to the processes described here.

Part one includes a critical review of the similarities and differences in contemporary conceptualisations of resilience, resilience as a dispositional characteristic, process and outcome models, and the need to consider resilience from behavioural and environmental perspectives. Part two reviews the measurement and methodological issues that must be addressed to enhance the quality of the empirical investigation of the construct and covers the assessment of risk, competence, maladjustment and resilience; longitudinal methodology, the differentiation of risk and protective factors as separate constructs. Part three discusses a model of the resilience process and the identification of the dispositional, cognitive, emotional and environmental factors that could be included in research and intervention protocols and the issues to be considered in promoting the adoption of a "resilience" paradigm in clinical intervention. The final part takes stock of the current status of the construct (the first generation) and outlines the conceptual, modelling and modelling issues (second generation goals and challenges) that define a future direction for work in this area.

The critical focus adopted by contributors is a major strength of this text. While the text is littered with definitional inconsistencies, in many ways this is a strength rather than a weakness. Resilience is defined in different ways in different chapters, terms such as resilience, competence, protective factors, invulnerability and risk are used interchangeably. These inconsistencies, however, impress upon the reader the complexities that exist in relation to a concept that is enjoying increasing popularity, but which is difficult to define and operationalise. Consequently, diverse definitions suggest the need for consistency in this regard. Without this, it is likely that, as Kaplan suggests, the concept will have outlived its usefulness. This issue is only partially resolved in terms of defining the modelling and methodological issues required to develop the concept and increase its validity as a clinical tool. Overall, this book should be essential reading for those interested in how people deal with adversity. If we are to fully understand how people respond to adversity we should commence with comprehensive and systematic research of those that attain and sustain positive outcomes. As the contents of this volume testify, this is a complex process, but the contributors to this volume have provided several conceptual, methodological and intervention avenues that might be profitably pursued in this regard.

The contributors to this volume have provided a sound starting for this process. While focusing on the relationship between risk and adversity and substance abuse, the contents of this text are equally applicable to issues of response to life stress, disaster and traumatic events. The text also makes some important points regarding the scientist-practitioner relationship which must be borne in mind as we attempt to reconcile the uncertainty associated with attempting to progressively understand and articulate complex relationships and outcomes with the task of providing the substance upon which effective and rigorously evaluated intervention can be built. For example, Masten also posts an important warning regarding the use of this information. She argues that the complexity and rudimentary state of our knowledge of resilience, and the lack of rigorous empirical analyses, warns against overselling what we know or what we are capable of accomplishing. Taking the contents of this volume as a starting point, we are in apposition to develop this capability while acknowledging the limitations on our knowledge and capabilities.


Masten, A.S., Best, K.M., & Garmezy, N. (1990) Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444.


Douglas Paton © 2001. The author assigns to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

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