Forces of trauma and resiliency next up in WMU Ethics Center talk

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News

"The Life of Pi."

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A Western Michigan University expert in the area of children's trauma assessment will explore the unexpected forces of trauma and resiliency this month as the Western Michigan University Center for the Study of Ethics in Society continues its fall lecture schedule.

Dr. James Henry, professor of social work and co-founder and project director for the WMU Children's Trauma Assessment Center, will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, in Room 209 of the Bernhard Center. His presentation, titled "The Unseen Force: The Power of Traumatic Experiences in Changing the Course of Development Across the Lifespan," is linked to the 2014-15 University Common Read of Yann Martel's "The Life of Pi." The event is free and open to the public.

Dr. James Henry

Henry worked for more than 17 years as a child welfare and protective services worker. Besides offering trauma-informed instruction as a WMU professor, Henry is the principal investigator in a number of grants, including two federal Safe Start Initiatives for children exposed to violence. He is a co-author of "Seeking Justice," which explores best models of system intervention in child sexual abuse.

Henry has trained more than 50,000 professionals, caregivers and community members on child maltreatment and trauma-informed practices. He recently has developed a secondary trauma training focusing on understanding the impact of secondary trauma, grief and building resiliency.

Scientific research on the impact of trauma on the brain is shifting the traditional paradigm of understanding human behavior. It is now known that traumatic events have the power to both change the physiology of the brain and create new pathways that can significantly alter perception, belief and behavior that can affect a lifetime. Trauma recovery is dependent on resiliency. Resiliency studies challenge the traditional myth that people are inherently resilient by revealing key factors that are necessary within experience to build resiliency. Resiliency allows people to not only overcome traumatic stress, but to learn and thrive from it.

"The Life of Pi" is a story of trauma and resiliency that provides innumerable examples of how these processes affect human behavior in extreme circumstances. A book discussion will use the story to increase understanding of the role of trauma in shaping human behavior, what is intrinsically necessary for survival and potential growth following trauma, and why some people can overcome traumatic experiences, while others may not.

More information

Co-sponsors include the College of Health and Human Services and School of Social Work. For more information, visit or contact Linda Reeser at