…extraordinarily traumatic events actually led to rebirth, recovery, and rebuilding.

I am writing this after returning from a wonderful and rejuvenating family vacation with my husband and our three grown sons.  For many, many summers now, we have realized our goal of showing our boys the beauty of North America.  We have walked countless magnificent trails and climbed incredible mountains in most of our National Parks, marveled at the pristine splendor of Alaska, and explored almost all of the majesty and charm of Canada.  This summer, we wanted a more urban experience, so we spent time in wonderful downtown Chicago, and then fell in love with the amazing jazz of New Orleans.  On the surface, these seem like disparate places to visit, but I soon discovered a fascinating and moving connection between our Mid-Western and Southern destinations.

Maybe the fact that I specialize in trauma and healing means that I see most of the world through a particular lens.  But I was so struck by a theme that emerged both in the cities of Chicago and New Orleans.  In both places, profound disasters threatened the very existence of the city and nearly led to their complete annihilation.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was one of the largest disasters of the 19th century, killing hundreds and destroying the very fabric of the city: the business district, hotels, department stores, City Hall, churches, the printing plants, theatres, and the opera house.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wrecked havoc on New Orleans and other neighboring states in the South.  It was one of the five deadliest hurricanes and the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. Over 1800 people died, with total property damage estimated at $81 billion dollars. In New Orleans, 80% of the city and nearby parishes were flooded.  Visiting the 9th Ward is a moving and sobering experience- the only way to begin to appreciate the depth of destruction and loss.

And yet, in both cities, these extraordinarily traumatic events actually led to rebirth, recovery, and rebuilding. Even with the magnitude of destruction, Chicago went on to become one of America’s most economically important cities.  And as New Orleans continues to rebuild, the palpable feeling of resiliency and gratitude is remarkable. Wherever we went, we were met with friendly, welcoming faces, and we were repeatedly thanked for supporting the city with our presence and much needed tourist dollars.

In both cities, I was moved by this idea of turning tragedy into an opportunity for regrowth.  It made me think about our clients and the amazing courage and resiliency of the human spirit.  It was a great reminder about our inherent capacity to heal, even in the face of devastating life events. I felt humbled and hopeful, and was again reminded of what a privilege it is to bear witness to this process when we help our clients in their healing journeys.

Resources for Resiliency 

  • Positive Psychology Resources – Centre for Confidence and Well-being  
  • Reivich, K and Shatte, A, The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles ,Three Rivers Press, 2003  
  • Ginsberg, K , Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011  
  • Neenan, M, Developing Resilience: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach, 2009 Routledge


2 thoughts on "Turning Tragedy into Opportunity: Resilience of the human spirit"

  1. Susan Morrison says:

    Thank you, Lisa, for your inspiration! Your words gave me an idea for a trauma client who consistently gets stuck in her progress toward healing.

    1. lisaferentz says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I am glad that my words can be helpful to you and your client! I like to think about “stuckness” as a form of “pacing” done by clients to keep the work safe for themselves. I think that can be a helpful re-frame for both of you!

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