Abstract: Resiliency from a Feedback Perspective (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

520P Resiliency from a Feedback Perspective

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Autumn Asher BlackDeer, MSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Peter Hovmand, PhD, Director and Professor of Practice, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Katie Chew, BA, MSW Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Zhou Ke, Program Coordinator, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Patrick Fowler, PhD, Associate Professor, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Wendy Auslander, PhD, Barbara A Bailey Professor of Social Work, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Background: While most campus prevention and response efforts to sexual and relationship violence focus on primary prevention and response, national studies suggest that about half of incoming students have already experienced their first sexual assault, and many will have been exposed to relationship violence in their families. Of particular relevance to developing trauma informed prevention and response systems is understanding the distribution of patterns of response (e.g., chronic and delayed response versus recovery and resilience), especially within the context of interactions of historical trauma. While resiliency research has surged within the past decade across, there is comparatively less known about the potential impacts that resiliency can have for survivors of relationship and sexual violence. 

The existing literature on resiliency points to the diversity of trajectories in response to adverse events, but a clear consensus is lacking regarding how to operationalize resiliency in longitudinal studies. The inherent dynamic complexity of responses to adverse events makes it difficult to develop generalizable and empirically testable theories of resilience. Dynamical systems approaches show promise for studying complex person-in-environment interactions that involve feedback mechanisms, accumulations, and nonlinear interactions. This poster explores the feasibility of using system dynamics simulation modeling as a way to develop a feedback theory of resiliency for survivors of relationship and sexual violence.

Methods: A literature review was conducted to identify trajectories in response to adverse events characterizing the dynamic complexity of human growth and adaptation. A series of feedback models of individual responses to adverse events were then developed and tested to determine whether they could replicate empirical patterns in the literature using system dynamics. The models assumed a normal goal-oriented growth trajectory that was interrupted by one or more adverse events. These were represented as a series of exogenous shocks that could be varied by their intensity and frequency. The final model was disaggregated by exposure to adverse events and treatment condition. 

Results: The final model showed that a relatively simple feedback structure of three state variables (wellness, resilience, and coping mechanisms) involving four feedback mechanisms was able to replicate the dynamic complexity of individual responses described in the extant literature. Analysis of the model revealed a number of bifurcations between resiliency, recovery, and delayed/chronic responses to trauma. Additional analyses highlighted the sensitivity of recovery to the intervals between adverse events (i.e., patterns of microaggressions that had a cumulatively larger impact than a single event, along with interactions between the two), the potential impact of building resiliency and coping skills relative to treatment. 

Conclusions and Implications: The main finding from this work was the importance of including resilience as a third accumulation or state variable in order to fully account for all the distributions described in the literature. This has implications for both practice in developing growth oriented approaches to trauma and future person-in-environment studies that can inform prevention and response to campus sexual and relationship violence in the context of microaggressions and historical trauma.