Building Trauma-Informed Human Resilience


ITRC is looking for a few good folks 

Climate Change isn't going away because we choose to look the other way.   As the Age of Consequences unfolds we are coming to grips with the fact that the greatest impacts of the ensuing chaos and pain will be primarily in the psycho-social- spiritual realm. Addressing that challenge is the mission of the International Transformational Resilience Coalition.  As executive director and author of Transformational Resilience Bob Dopplet explains:

"Rapid reductions in carbon emissions must be a top priority. So is preparing human-built infrastructure and natural resources to withstand and adapt to climate impacts. Equally important now, however--but almost completely unacknowledged and unaddressed--is the urgent need to proactively build the capacity of individuals, families, organizations, and entire communities to cope with climate adversities without harming themselves, other people, or the natural environment and use them as transformational catalysts to increase individual, social, and ecological wellbeing. This can be accomplished by launching programs explicitly focused on building Transformational Resilience."

ITRC a network of over 300 mental health, trauma treatment, resilience, faith, and climate leaders focused on the need to proactively build widespread levels of psychological and psycho-social-spiritual resilience for climate change worldwide. Website:  

The Urgent Need, Methods, and Many Benefits of Launching Preventative Transformational Resilience Building Initiatives for Climate Change Regionwide

The International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC) is a network of over 300 mental health, trauma, resilience, faith, and climate leaders focused on the need to proactively build personal and psycho-social-spiritual resilience for climate disruption.*

The ITRC came together out of the realization that the traumas resulting from more frequent and intense storms, floods, wildfires, heatwaves, droughts, and other disasters, as well as chronic toxic stresses such as the distress caused by loss of property, valuables, and community bonds, injury or death of a loved one, new illnesses and diseases, and more generated by rising global temperatures are aggravating and mental health and psycho-social-spiritual problems in locally and globally. The psychological impacts include severe anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicides, moral distress, compassion fatigue, and other mental health problems. The psycho-social-spiritual impacts include rising hopelessness and helplessness, increased drug and alcohol abuse, child and spousal abuse (and ACEs), aggression, extremism, authoritarianism, crime, interpersonal violence, and other maladies.

As global temperatures rise toward 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2C) above preindustrial levels, as is now certain, or more, these problems will grow far worse. Left unaddressed, everyone's safety, health, and wellbeing will be threatened. Because fearful people retreat into a self-protective posture that leads them to ignore external issues, the harmful human reactions also threaten to stall efforts to cut carbon emissions and make it even more difficult to reduce the climate crisis to manageable levels.

Preventing harmful psychological and psycho-social-spiritual reactions to climate change is therefore a cross-cutting issue affecting the mental and physical health of adults, children, community safety and wellbeing, climate solutions, and much more.

Rapid reductions in carbon emissions must be a top priority. So is preparing human-built infrastructure and natural resources to withstand and adapt to climate impacts.

Equally important now, however--but almost completely unacknowledged and unaddressed--is the urgent need to proactively build the capacity of individuals, families, organizations, and entire communities to cope with climate adversities without harming themselves, other people, or the natural environment and use them as transformational catalysts to increase individual, social, and ecological wellbeing. This can be accomplished by launching programs explicitly focused on building Transformational Resilience.

Preventative Transformational Resilience Is Key

The ITRC believes it is essential to improve the mental health elements of our disaster response systems to address the coming challenges. However, this alone is woefully insufficient. As global temperatures climb, it will be increasingly impossible to help all of the individuals and groups that become dysregulated by climate change-enhanced disasters. Just as important, many of the most harmful psychological and psycho-social-spiritual impacts of climate disruption are caused by persistent overwhelming (toxic) stresses, not acute disasters, which disaster assistance programs do not address.

For these reasons the ITRC believes that comprehensive preventative Transformational Resilience building initiatives must be rapidly launched throughout the Pacific Northwest and nationwide. New policies will be needed to achieve this goal.

Purpose and Outcomes of Preventative Transformational Resilience Initiatives

The common definition of resilience as the capacity to "bounce back" to pre-impact conditions will be increasingly irrelevant as temperatures rise by 3.6 F above pre-industrial levels, which could happen in as little as 10-20 years. It will simply will not be possible to return to pre-crisis conditions. Instead, the goal of preventative Transformational Resilience initiatives must be to empower all adults and youth with the capacity to: a) think and act in healthy ways even in ongoing unhealthy conditions and; b) use adversities as transformational catalysts to find meaning, direction, and hope in life even in the midst of ongoing adversities. In specific, everyone should have the opportunity to learn:

  • Knowledge about how trauma and toxic stress affect the human mind and body (i.e. become trauma-informed).
  • Simple skills and tools they can use to regulate and calm their body and mind in the midst of adversity and make wise and skillful decisions.
  • Simple methods that enable them to use climate--and other--adversities as transformational catalysts to learn, grow, and find meaning and hope in life by helping others and nature (i.e. a version of post-traumatic growth skills).
  • Methods to help organizational and community leaders understand when their groups have become "trauma-organized" (structured in ways to protect themselves from adversity but which instead further traumatize and stress people).
  • Procedures and policies to help organizational and community leaders transition groups to "trauma-informed" human resilience-enhancing enterprises.

Resilience science shows that building widespread levels of human resilience requires interrelated efforts at the individual, organization, and community levels. Research also shows personal and psycho-social-spiritual resilience skills can be learned across the life-span and that enhanced resilience skills often makes people more prosocial. This is why we include the word "Transformational" in our name. With effective knowledge and skills, people can use climate-enhanced adversities as transformational catalysts to learn, grow, and increase personal, social, and ecological wellbeing. Without this focus, climate change promises a dim future for many people nationwide.

Building Transformational Resilience Will Help People Respond Constructively to Many Types of Traumas and Toxic Stresses

Research has found that people with good resilience skills have much greater capacity to constructively deal trauma and toxic stress. They are therefore healthier psychologically -- and also physically. They also tend to be more altruistic and thus more willing to make changes such as reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Although the ITRC was organized due to concerns about the threats posed by climate disruption, the type of trauma-informed human resiliency education, skills building, and policy development initiatives we believe are necessary would help individuals, organizations, and communities successfully cope with a wide-range of human-made disasters, such as terrorists acts and school shootings, as well as non-climate related natural disasters such as earthquakes in ways that also help people learn, grow, and enhance wellbeing.

Specific Elements of the ITRC Proposal:

1) The ITRC proposes that Resilience Leadership Councils (RLCs-- though each community would choose a title that resonates locally) be organized in every community (neighborhood or region) to plan, establish, and coordinate preventative Transformational Resilience building initiatives to reach all adults and youth.

This is a modification of IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies which calls for the creation of local coordinating groups. The ITRC believes a coordination group is needed in every community before major disasters occur to plan and institute preventative resilience building programs.

The mission of the RLCs should include:

a) Assess the number and types of existing personal and psycho-social-spiritual resilience building programs that are available, the populations they serve, and the gaps that exist in populations served and types of skills and tools that are available.

b) Develop and support programs to teach thought-based, breath-based, body-based (somatic) and other skills that help people stabilize their nervous system in the midst of adversity and use trauma & stress as catalysts to learn, grow, act according to their core values, and find hope in the midst of ongoing adversity.

c) Develop and support programs to strengthen social support networks of all kinds (often called bonding, bridging, linking networks).

d) Strengthen community, economic, educational, religious/spiritual protective systems and other vital resources that influence personal and psycho-social-spiritual resilience.

e) Inform all local organizational and community leaders how to recognize signs of becoming trauma-organized and learn skills, methods, and policies to transition to human resilience-enhancing enterprises.

f) Assess the existing social narratives that dominate a community, neighborhoods, and groups and together promote new social narratives focused on safe, healthy, and resilient norms and practices.

g) Identify and prepare the most vulnerable populations for climate impacts--but don’t limit efforts just to vulnerable groups!

h) Strengthen the mental health elements of emergency services programs.

i) Propose policies to support and fund the initiatives described above.

The ITRC has identified a broad range of organizations that provide human resiliency-focused education and skills training programs. There are many age and culturally appropriate skills-focused approaches to chose from (see the Fact Sheet for more information).

Adult-focused human resilience building programs can be launched by civic groups, faith-based, public, private, and non-profit organizations of all types for executives, employees, clients, and stakeholders.

Youth-focused human resilience education and skills building programs and their families can be launched by K-12, high school, and higher education systems for students, faculty, staff, parents, and caregivers and by after school youth programs.


With average global temperatures now certain to rise close to 3.6 degrees F above pre-industrial levels (and maybe higher), the ITRC believes it is essential to rapidly authorize, support, and fund efforts to scale up existing resilience building initiatives and launch new ones in every community in the Pacific Northwest.

The goal should be to ensure that preventative Transformational Resilience education and skills building initiatives for all adults, youth, and organizational and community leaders become as common statewide as learning to read and write

 Examples of Harmful Psychological Impacts of Climate Disruption on Individuals

  • Psychological Effects of Extreme Weather Events: Research shows that 25-50% of the people impacted by extreme weather events can experience debilitating levels of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more, along with increased suicides. In addition, family dysfunction, difficulties at work, increased misbehavior of children, and a sense of lost identity often result from exposure to extreme weather events. [i]
  • Psychological Effects of Flooding: Similar psychological impacts have been found as a result of major flooding. For example, research in the U.K. found that almost 75% of the people directly impacted by the 2007 summer floods experienced significant psychological distress, almost 50% experienced serious anxiety and depression & almost 25% suffered from PTSD. [ii]
  • Psychological Effects of Droughts: Studies have found that droughts can produce serious depression and anxiety as well much higher suicide rates. During the droughts of the 1980s male farmers and ranchers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Montana demonstrated twice the number of suicides as the national rate. [iii]
  • Psychological Effects of Rising Temperatures: Experimental and correlational research shows there is a causal relationship between rising heat and increased interpersonal aggression, assault, rape, robbery, burglary, and larceny, and violence. Alcohol and drug abuse also tends to rise as temperatures increase. [iv]
  • Mounting Levels of Secondary Trauma: These impacts, combined with knowledge about the declining health of the climate, are causing rising levels of secondary trauma, including moral distress and compassion fatigue. The Resource Innovation Group’s Transformational Resilience program, for example, works with an increasing number of scientific and human service organizations whose staff feels rising levels of hopelessness, helplessness, and burnout. [v]
  • Persistent Psychological Trauma and Stress Impacts Physical Health: Research indicates that chronic stress such as the physical impacts of rising temperatures will produce can lead to cardiovascular problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke. It also contributes to obesity and eating disorders, skin and hair problems such as psoriasis and eczema, and gastrointestinal problems such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerated colitis, and irritable colon syndrome. Persistent stress has also been associated with some cancers.[vi]
  • Increasing Levels of Chronic Toxic Stresses: These mental and physical health impacts are merging with a boatload of indirect climate stressors such as rising food prices due to drought, job losses and financial strains, and more to increase the levels of chronic toxic stresses people experience.

Examples of Harmful Psycho-Social-Spiritual Reactions to Climate Change

  • Climate-Enhanced Trauma and Stress Threaten to Create “Trauma-Organized” Communities: When numerous individuals, families, and groups in a community experience persistent trauma and toxic stress, residents often strive to protect themselves by adopting norms, policies, and practices that, rather than relieving distress, further traumatize and stress people. Without significant preventative measures, climate impacts will aggravate this risk. For instance, as stated above, research has found a strong link between higher daily temperatures and more aggression, crime, and violence. [vii] As these and other social maladies rise, the self-protection measures individuals and groups adopt will often generate even more trauma and stress, triggering a vicious cycle that is difficult to stop.
  • Climate Impacts Can Cause Entire Regions To Become “Trauma-Organized”: Without proactive major preventative efforts, as climate impacts worsen entire regions can become trauma-organized. For instance, a meta analysis of 60 research reports and 45 data sets from 27 industrial nations, including the U.S., found that in all parts of the world social conflict and violence rose when drought, extreme weather, and temperatures increased. Climate disruption will likely also add to the tensions already experienced in regions of the nation around migration as people move to the U.S. from nations harder hit by climate impacts. [viii]


Examples of Personal and Psycho-Social-Spiritual Resilience Building Skills

Many well-researched skills exist to build human psychosocial resilience. For example:

  • “Presencing” Skills: One set of skills involved with building human resilience for acute traumas and chronic toxic stresses can be described as “presencing” techniques. They help an individual regulate their fear-based reactions when they are not needed by calming their emotions and thoughts and stabilizing their nervous system. Within this category are body-based (somatic), breath-based (mindfulness), thought-based (cognitive), social support building (stress buffering), hopefulness (optimism), and other techniques.
  • “Purposing” Skills: Another set of skills that are very helpful when trauma and stress are extreme or ongoing, such as when global temperatures rise toward 3.6 F, can be called “purposing” techniques. They help people find new meaning, hope, and direction in adversity and make decisions that increase their functioning above pre-crisis levels. Within this category are meaning making, life goals illumination, values-clarification, strengths-identification, conflict resolution, effective communication, and other techniques (these skills help foster the characteristics found in people that demonstrate what in psychology is called “post-traumatic growth”).
  • “Lifestyle” Skills: An important set of human resilience skills includes eating modest amounts of healthy food, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, getting good exercise, having some type of a spiritual practice, and in general living a balanced healthy lifestyle. Note, however, that although these lifestyle skills help foster personal resilience, people who cannot obtain them can still remain psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually resilient in the face of acute trauma and chronic toxic stress if they employ some variation of the presencing and purposing skills described above.

Community Resilience Skills and Tools:

  • Communities can foster personal and psycho-social-spiritual resilience by actively helping people build robust “bonding”, “bridging” and “linking” social support networks. Bonding social support networks are a small group of family, friends, and neighbors that buffer people from stress and provide practical assistance when needed. Bridging social support networks are connections between different bonding networks that provide people with important sources of information and minimize fear-based reactions to outsiders. Linking social support networks are connections between bonding and bridging networks and external organizations and government agencies that can provide important resources and technical assistance. Numerous approaches have been identify to help communities build robust bonding, bridging, and linking social support networks."

Contact Bob Dopplet if you are interested in this important work. :


Bob Doppelt is Executive Director of The Resource Innovation Group, which is affiliated with Willamette University. For 10 years he directed the Climate Leadership Initiative in the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon, where he still teaches part time. He is trained as a counseling psychologist and in environmental science and has combined the two fields throughout his career. He is also a long-time mindfulness teacher and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Instructor. In 2015 he was named one of the world’s “50 Most Talented Social Innovators” by the CSR World Congress. He is the author of 4 best-selling books on the processes involved with altering human-ecological systems to enhance wellbeing. His newest book Transformational Resilience (Greenleaf Publishing 2016) describes “Presencing” and “Purposing” skills and other tools to build personal resilience as well as psycho-socialspiritual resilience within organizations and communities for climate disruption.

"Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." Eben Fodor



[i] For example see: Bourque, L. B., et al., (2006). Weathering the storm: The impact of hurricanes on physical and mental health. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 604,129-150; Weems, C.F. et al., “Pre-disaster trait anxiety and negative affect predict posttraumatic stress in youths after hurricane Katrina.” (2007) Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 75, no. 1, pp. 154–159; R.C. Kessler et al., “Trends in mental illness and suicidality after Hurricane Katrina, ”Molecular Psychiatry, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 374–384, 2008; P. S. Wang et al., “Disruption of existing mental health treatments and failure to initiate new treatment after Hurricane Katrina,” (2008) American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 165, no. 1, pp. 34–41.

[ii] For example see: Paranjothy et al., Psychosocial impact of the summer 2007 floods in England, (2011) BMC Public Health,1471-2458/11/145; M. Reacher et al., “Health impacts of flooding in Lewes: a comparison of reported gastrointestinal and other illness and mental health in flooded and non-flooded households,” (2004) Communicable Disease and Public Health, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 39–46; Ahern et al., Global Health Impacts of Floods (2005) Epidimeology Reviews 27:36-46.

[iii] For example see: Farmer Suicide Rate Swells in 1980's, NY Times, October 14, 1991; G. M. Sartore et al., “Drought and its effect on mental health—how GPs can help,” (2007) Australian Family Physician, vol. 36, no. 12, pp. 990–993; L. Goldwert, “Climate change threatens mental health too: Droughts, floods have psychological impact,” (September 2011) The Daily News,

[iv] For example see: Gamble, J, and Hess, J. Temperature and Violent Crime in Dallas, Texas: Relationships and Implications of Climate Change, (2013) Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, September; Bulbena A. et al. (2006). Psychiatric effects of heat waves. Psychiatric Services, 57, 1519; Poumadere, M., et al. The 2003 heat wave in France: Dangerous climate change here and now. (2005) Risk Analysis, 25, 1483-1494; C. A. Anderson, “Heat and violence,” (2001) Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 33–38; J. Rotton and E. G. Cohn, “Global warming and U.S. crime rates: an application of routine activity theory.” (2003) Environment and Behavior, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 802–825.

[v] For example see: K. Searle and K. Gow, “Do concerns about climate change lead to distress?” (2010) International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 362–379; Fritze, J. et al., Hope, despair and transformation: Climate change and the promotion of mental health and wellbeing. (2008) International Journal of Mental Health Systems. 1186/1752-4458-2-13.

[vi] For example see: Collingwood J. The Physical Effects of Long Term Stress. PsychCentral at; Rupa, B. The Impacts of Recent Heat Waves on Human Health in California. (January 2014) Insurance NewsNet.

[vii] For example see: Ransom M. Crime, Weather and Climate Change. (May 2014) Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Volume 67, Issue 3, Pages 274–302; Anderson A. Heat and Violence, (2001) Current Directions in Psychological Science, American Psychological Society; Fox A., Heat wave has chilling effect on violent crime. Crime and Punishment, July 2010.

[viii] For example see: Hsiang S.M. et al, Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict. (2013) Science; Maloney, A., Drug violence, climate change create ceaseless wave of Latin American refugees. (December 2014) Reuters.








Piazzon, G. (2018). Building Trauma-Informed Human Resilience. Retrieved from


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