IF YOU could choose only one word to describe French psychologist Boris Cyrulnik, "resilient" would be an obvious one.
He was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1937 to Jewish parents, who were refugees from Poland. Three years later, they were killed during World War II.
"My father joined the French army and disappeared. Then my mother was put in the concentration camp," Dr Cyrulnik, 69, says matter-of-factly on the phone from London two weeks ago.
He was there to promote the English translation of his latest book, Talking Of Love On The Edge Of A Precipice. The original text, Parler D'Amour Au Bord Du Gouffre, was on the French bestseller list for 45 weeks when it was published in 2004.
The book, which stems from his experiences of more than 40 years in psychotherapy, uses anecdotes, fables and research to examine the psychological concept of resilience, or how people survive and grow after psychological trauma.
Speaking in hesitant but clear English and a smattering of French, he tells LifeStyle about the tough childhood that inspired his interest in the concept of resilience in psychology. He spent much of the war years without his parents in a jail near Bordeaux, and was six or seven when he was finally freed.
He says: "I don't remember my parents well, but I have two pictures left."
After the war, the orphan was taken in by a foster family of farmers, to whom he is "not close". But he is grateful to them for raising him.
"They were poor but they did their best. I was 11 when I went to school for the first time," says Dr Cyrulnik, who now lives in Toulon with his wife, a former doctor who is now a painter and the mayor of their town. They have two grown-up children, a daughter who is a film academic and a son who is a musician.
He adds wryly: "Everyone laughed when I said I wanted to be a doctor or a journalist. They laughed because they said it was impossible that a young boy with no family could become a doctor or a journalist."
But with the help of supportive teachers, he put himself through school and university, working various odd jobs from washing windows to teaching children how to swim.
He trained in both neurology and psychiatry, and has taught at universities in Marseille and Toulon. He has also worked with the United Nations Children???s Fund and the World Health Organisation on pyschotherapy projects that have taken him to the Middle East, Africa and South America.
He has also written more than 10 books on the study of resilience. Its use as a psychological term dates from the 1960s in the United States. But he says the concept of resilience in psychology has its source in World War II and the findings of psychoanalyst Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund.
According to Dr Cyrulnik, after Anna was chased from Austria by the Nazis, she fled to London, where she bought a house in which she sheltered young children orphaned by the bombing of London.
"The children were all traumatised, unresponsive, tense, some suicidal. But after a few years, she was amazed at how well the children had recovered," he says.
"The notion of resilience was not studied then. Today, it's a common psychological concept."
But what gives people resilience in the face of such despair? This is what Dr Cyrulnik's work seeks to find out, and as the title of his book suggests, the answer has a lot to do with love.
He says: "A traumatised child can be resilient if he or she has acquired a confidence in the early years of life, from being loved.
"Such children believe that if they have been loved once, they are worth loving, and so hope that they will be loved again."
The same is true of traumatised adults, though with some complications.
He says: "They still feel a lot of grief, but because they have hope, they still relate to other people and engage with the world, and it is this communication that helps them make sense of their trauma."
His book is filled with anecdotes about the patients he has seen during his long career as a psychotherapist, though he changes names and places.
On a more personal level, he says he was successful in recovering from his childhood trauma, where many children might have failed, precisely because of love.
He says: "I don't think I was different from other children. But I had luck. I had a teacher who put me in the college. I met adults who could be there for me and believed in me.
"And so, here I am."
Talking Of Love On The Edge Of A Precipice will be available in Singapore later this month. It costs £8.98 (S$26.95) on www.amazon.co.uk
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 11, 2007.
"I was one of the few children who had perfect parents who were always young and never tired. This was because I was an orphan and they were imaginary parents"- On being orphaned during World War II
???I am amazed at how often people come up to me and say, you talked about me in your book. Of course that???s not true, but I am glad I am able to put hope in their minds???
- On why he enjoys writing psychology books
"I live in Toulon, on the Mediterranean seaside, in an old house my wife and I refurbished ourselves two years ago. We had to work very hard, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it was very stimulating"- On the house he lives in with his wife