Redefining resilience: Joan Borysenko, Kelly Scholar-in-Residence, visits St. Kate’s

The Bonnie Jean and Joan Kelly Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence is a program created by Joan Kelly ‘46 in memory of her sister Bonnie Jean Kelly who died when she was attending St. Kate’s.
This year’s Kelly Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence is Joan Borysenko, who is an expert in the mind/body connection and works with integrative medicine. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College before earning her doctorate in Medical Sciences from the Harvard Medical School, where she participated in postdoctoral training in cancer cell biology. After her dad died from cancer, she became more interested in the patient with cancer than the cancer itself and went back to Harvard Medical School for a second postdoctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine. Borysenko eventually completed a third postdoctoral fellowship in psychoneuroimmunology.

Borysenko co-founded a mind/body clinic and became a licensed psychologist and an instructor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School in the early 1980s. She has authored and co-authored several books and audio and video programs as well. Additionally, she is the Director of the Claritas Institute Interspiritual Mentor Training Program and the Founding Partner of Mind/Body Health Sciences, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado.

Borysenko visited St. Kate’s from April 23-25. She worked with students and faculty from the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health regarding mindfulness and meditation, interprofessional education and discoveries in the mind-body-spirit effort.

“I hope that I’ve left students, staff and faculty with valuable information, inspiration and food for dialogue,” Borysenko said of her time spent at St. Kate’s.

She explained that she felt at home here at St. Kate’s, with its tradition of scholarship as well as a very relational culture, as she went to an all-female college, which she believes helped her embody a holistic, relational, intuitive viewpoint that humanizes the science she enjoys sharing with others.

One of the highlights of Borysenko’s visit was her presentation on “The Art and Science of Resilience: From Surviving to Thriving” in the O’Shaughnessy auditorium on Thursday, April 24. Borysenko discussed several concepts related to resilience, which she said that all of us can use in today’s challenging world. She also explained why some people are more resilient than others—resilience is influenced by physical factors like the left prefrontal cortex being up to 30 times more active in resilient people.

Borysenko also touched on ideas such as stress hardiness and helplessness, which are the different ways in which people react to difficult situations, and the secret to achieving resilience. This includes optimizing realism, which involves facing circumstances with realism, having faith in the context and meaning of the situation, realization of how one’s story may change and making connections with loved ones and the community.
“Resilience can be learned,” Borysenko said.

Exercise, humor, acceptance and gratitude can also help one learn resilience. Dr. Borysenko ended the address by suggesting the practice of mindfulness and other kinds of meditation, mental training techniques and deep breathing as additional ways to become more resilient.

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