Dr Peter Doherty(September 10, 2012) — How well do university students bounce back from misfortune or disappointment? And what can be done to foster resilience when times are good?

Those are some of the questions Dr. Peter Doherty will be exploring as he researches resilience in students and chaplains over the next several years.

“So much of psychology has focused on what is maladaptive in the person and how to treat it,” said Dr. Doherty, Associate Professor of Psychology and Family Studies at St. Mary’s University.

“My colleagues and I are interested in the traits that help a person resist the effects of illness and stress. Can we increase resilience so that instead of just surviving, the person can thrive?

“We believe that resilience comes from how an individual interprets an event, not from the event itself.”

Dr. Doherty and his colleague Jan Gordon have designed a program that may increase resilience among students. He will be enlisting volunteers from the St. Mary’s student body to test the program during the upcoming academic year.

As an extension of this research, Dr. Doherty and another colleague, Jane Oxenbury, will interview university and hospital chaplains to assess their level of resilience in the face of high job demands.

Dr. Doherty said his clinical experience and research initiatives enrich his teaching by adding a practical perspective to his courses.

“Research has altered my world view,” he said. “I encourage my students to conduct research, not just for a term paper, but for the experience of knowledge.”

St. Mary’s University is “an excellent place for students to make lasting friendships, be involved in social justice activities and deepen their religious commitment,” Dr. Doherty said.

“At St. Mary’s, you can grow as a human being. You are respected, valued and encouraged to risk, share and develop. You will not get lost in the crowd.”

A St. Mary’s University professor since 1999, Dr. Peter Doherty is a registered psychologist and a practising marriage and family therapist. He has studied and written extensively about forgiveness, publishing an article last year in Family Therapy Magazine called The Apology, A Common Sense Approach for Clients in Family Therapy.

He is often asked to participate in community forums and media interviews about mental health and relationship issues. In September 2012, he participated in a panel discussion on forgiveness organized by Alberta Health Services in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day.

Next year, Dr. Doherty will be the first Canadian to chair the Council of Division Presidents of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). He has served the association for many years, including a term as Alberta Division President.

In addition, Dr. Doherty serves as Chair of the St. Mary’s University Research Ethics Committee.