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D. McDowell
Published 1999 ·

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The refugee experience confronts us with humanity at its most challenged—forcibly uprooted and in flight from violence, caught between countries, facing an uncertain future—but it also provides some of the most striking examples of human resilience. This innovative and important book explores that resilience and its implications for resettlement and mental health services, policy and practice. The contributors have a wealth of research, clinical and community experience and have been at the forefront of interdisciplinary studies that advance our understanding of refugee mental health and adaptation. They approach the person seeking refuge and resettling in a new country not as a clinical, social or political problem but as the active agent of their own survival. In so doing, they encourage us to move from diagnosing and treating traumatic wounds and losses to fostering individual and collective adaptation and flourishing. They emphasize the importance of the larger community that receives those seeking asylum and call us to a more humane and effective response. Migration has been a constant in human evolution and the ability to adapt to radically new environments is intrinsic to our psychology. The migrations of prehistory brought us into different ecological environments that gave rise to diverse cultures, with different ways of life that included changes in modes of subsistence, worldviews, systems of values and aspirations. The roots of human resilience are in self-regulating and self-righting adaptive systems that include our capacity to acquire new strategies for survival and to reorganize our ways of life to fit new contexts. Resilience then is part of ‘human nature’ built into our multiple systems of learning, grounded in neuroplasticity, psychological inventiveness, and cultural creativity, which allow us to embrace and adopt new, hybrid identities. At the same time, continuity of identity, relationships and community are central to many individuals’ strength, sense of coherence, and self-efficacy. Much of the scientific research on resilience has focused on individual characteristics, but resilience is not only the outcome of psychological processes but also of social process that reside in relationships among people, systems and institutions at the level of families, neighborhoods, communities, and organizations, governments and transnational networks. Recognizing the social dimensions of refugee resilience means we must look beyond the individual to understand the larger contexts in which they are embedded. Resettlement policies can support the refugee’s efforts to build

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