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Critical resilience: New book explores oppression survivors’ response to help others, improve society

Stories | 01.12.23

Those seeking to learn more on how people who endure adversity not only survive but thrive amidst structural and social injustices should pick up the latest book by Adler professor Melissa L. Morgan, Ph.D.

Critical Resilience and Thriving in Response to Systemic Oppression: Insights to Inform Social Justice in Critical Times,” will be released March 31 by academic publisher Routledge.

Cover of Critical Resilience

The book is set for release in March.

The book draws on qualitative research methods to highlight the voices of Holocaust survivors and Latino immigrants to the U.S., and illustrate the role of cultural values, spirituality, and perseverance to overcome adversity. The text posits critical resilience as one response to embedded social inequalities and goes on to offer a nuanced reconceptualization of resilience – not only as overcoming adversity, but as recognizing the strengths of those experiencing ongoing injustice.

“One of the big reasons I wrote this was to create a platform for those who are not always heard,” said Dr. Morgan, associate chair in the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology program.

The idea of critical resilience grew out of the research Dr. Morgan, along with her doctoral students, has conducted over the past 15 years. Prior to Adler, Dr. Morgan was a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology (CCSP) and served as CCSP director of clinical training. She specializes in multicultural, international, and immigrant research.

“All the data added up to this phenomenon that as people go through really difficult things, often at the hands of other people or oppression, many have altruistic responses to make sure whatever happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Dr. Morgan said.

Three years ago, while presenting her findings at an American Psychological Association conference, an editor approached Dr. Morgan about writing a book. After compiling and synthesizing all her work, that’s when she decided to call the phenomenon “critical resilience,” building on past literature.

Examples of critical resilience include Latinx immigrants who, after going through immigration-related challenges, now wanted to inform policy. Others wanted to educate their family members and neighbors how to navigate the complex governmental processes. There’s the Holocaust survivor who decided to volunteer in programs that help at-risk youth. And there are others who overcame adversity who decided to run for political office or joined the Peace Corps.

In the book’s last chapter, Dr. Morgan said she includes observations and recommendations, based on the stories and research, that could be helpful for others working towards social justice at a broader level.

“As I say throughout the book, this is not a way to condone the terrible things that happened to people,” Dr. Morgan said. “Instead, it’s a way to give credit. I wanted to look at and further understand this really interesting response of wanting to give back to society as a result of the oppression they’ve faced.”

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