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Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A

Framework Informed by Evidence

Maureen F. Mooney, Joint Centre for Disaster Research

Douglas Paton, University of Tasmania

Ian de Terte, Massey University

Sarb Johal, Joint Centre for Disaster Research

A. Nuray Karanci, Middle East Technical University, Turkey

Dianne Gardner, Massey University

Susan Collins, Joint Centre for Disaster Research

Bruce Glavovic, Joint Centre for Disaster Research

Thomas J. Huggins, Joint Centre for Disaster Research

Lucy Johnston, Canterbury University

Ron Chambers, Canterbury District Health Board

David Johnston, Joint Centre for Disaster Research

Following the Canterbury earthquakes, The Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR), a Massey University and
Geological and Nuclear Science (GNS Science) collaboration, formed a Psychosocial Recovery Advisory Group
to help support organisations involved in the recovery process. This advisory group reviews and summarises
evidence-based research findings for those who make requests for such information. Extensive experience within
the group adds a practitioner perspective to this advice. This article discusses the definition of psychosocial
recovery used by the group to date, and the group’s view that psychosocial recovery involves easing
psychological difficulties for individuals, families/whānau and communities, as well as building and bolstering
social and psychological well-being. The authors draw on a brief discussion of this literature to make practical
suggestions for psychosocial recovery.

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Mooney et al.

The earthquakes in Canterbury the strengths of affected individuals solving, social support, appreciating
during 2010 and 2011 have created and communities. The broad nature of cultural and spiritual practices and
unprecedented demands on agencies psychosocial recovery goals demands community diversity, and the
tasked with disaster recovery. An collaboration between an extensive importance of coordination and
earthquake sequence of this nature and range of professionals such as integration. This advisory group’s role
extent in Canterbury was psychologists, sociologists, is ongoing, as part of providing for
unanticipated, and the multiple economists and urban designers. these components. We hope to remain
agencies involved needed to rapidly engaged with the Canterbury recovery
coordinate their response and recovery The group’s own working through further advice and the
planning. The earthquake in definition of psychosocial recovery is considered design of collaborative
Canterbury on 22 February 2011 set out in an annex to our terms of research projects. Our advisory group
highlighted an acute need to garner a reference and is discussed within the also hopes to advocate for the
breadth of New Zealand and current article. The definition was resourcing of integrated monitoring
international disaster recovery written to focus the efforts of our and evaluation, which, like other
expertise to help inform the many advisory group, and does not claim to aspects of longer-term planning, could
facets of a rapidly developing encompass all potential aspects of be easily neglected within the ongoing
recovery context. psychosocial recovery. The definition challenges of recovery in the
does include aspects of mental health Canterbury region.
The Joint Centre for Disaster needs and psychological support,
Research (JCDR) is a collaboration alongside communities’ capacity to Characteristics of Our
between Massey University and GNS respond and adapt in the face of Psychosocial Recovery
Science. Acting on a request from the adversity. The group’s definition of Advisory Group
Ministry of Social Development psychosocial recovery also focuses on
(MSD), JCDR rapidly formed an the importance of community The diversity of experience and
advisory group of specialists with participation and engagement within knowledge within the group is both an
experience researching and working in recovery governance. Such advantage and a challenge. This
psychosocial recovery from disasters participation and engagement has group’s diverse knowledge of
(see Appendix). The advisory group important effects on a population’s psychosocial recovery is essential as,
represents a range of diverse recovery, resilience, and adaptive this is a complex area. Having a
specialties and experience based capacity. group capable of marshalling a wider
around the discipline of psychology. breadth of evidence-based information
The group’s expertise has been Although it is tempting to regard is a distinct advantage to practitioners
applied to providing a range of advice ‘recovery’ as a simple process, some and policy-makers in the broader
to key agencies involved after the consideration needs to be given to the psychosocial recovery domain. The
earthquakes in Canterbury. intended meaning of this term and advisory group can take advantage of
other language used around it. The extensive international links and
In addition to drawing on term recovery is often embedded in a involvement in other disasters both
extended professional experience in model of repair and restoration to a within and outside New Zealand, to
the psychosocial field, the advisory pre-injury or pre-illness state. inform best practice in recovery from
group has based their advice on Accordingly, individuals may consider the Canterbury earthquakes.
empirical evidence to provide timely that successful recovery is achieved
but quality advice. This evidence only if they return to how they were The group has focused on
highlights the need to provide many prior to the disaster (i.e., ‘returning to maintaining an ability to co-operate
levels of intervention, ranging from normal’). This interpretation of and collaborate effectively, building
the general provision of basic living recovery is neither possible nor strength from the diversity of member
requirements to specialised desirable after a major disaster, and so backgrounds and approaches. A
interventions for a small proportion of it is useful for agencies to clarify their recovery process is a vast activity
the population suffering from the intended use of the term ‘recovery’. where different perspectives and
impact of individual trauma and This will help agencies to focus the conflicting needs operate
related difficulties. attention of individuals and society on simultaneously. In a disaster recovery
coping positively with a disaster, situation these conflicting demands
All advice focussed on a progressing toward a situation that has and interests can result in the
psychosocial approach to post-disaster psychosocially and physically breakdown of effective
recovery. This approach to recovery changed, rather than focusing on communication and lead to ineffective
aims to ease physical and trying to return to a pre-earthquake dynamics. The advisory group has
psychological difficulties for state. found a modus vivendi of functioning
individuals, families/whānau and together to produce documents and
communities, as well as building and Advisory group collaborations support for clients, despite having
bolstering social and psychological have highlighted practical components diverse interests and frameworks. A
well-being (Ministry of Health, 2007). of a strength-based approach to clear demarcation of roles and
This entails addressing vulnerabilities recovery. These components include processes within the group along with
as well as looking for and enhancing assisting goal setting and problem- flexibility when responding to

New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 40, No. 4. 2011 • 27 •

Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework

demands is a factor in developing this Our advisory group can play a considered at the level of individuals,
efficiency. This example of effective positive role in recovery, beyond the families/whānau and small groups as
collaboration reflects what efforts can initial planning stages. Research can well as communities. Individual and
be made in the wider disaster recovery improve knowledge on current group needs evolve within the
arena. situations and refine future recovery cycle. Different groups and
approaches. The Canterbury individuals within affected
Activities and interventions earthquakes disaster has provided a communities can experience the
In a major disaster, recovery rare, if unwelcome, opportunity to disaster in a range of ways. In
processes can be initially improve and enhance existing addressing the need for psychological
overwhelming and can threaten to knowledge of the recovery process in support, a range of research findings
outstrip resources available to meet order to better prepare for any future suggest most of the population will
this challenge. Often agencies in the disaster situations. Members of the have reactions to a disaster. Evidence
field find that so much of their time is advisory group are helping develop reviewed by Bonanno, Brewin,
taken up with response and recovery relevant research along with Kaniasty, and La Greca (2010),
efforts that they have little time to Canterbury colleagues. Hobfoll, Watson, Bell, Bryant,
examine the empirical evidence base Brymer, Friedman, et al. (2007), and
or to analyse whether what they are Defining and Promoting McNally, Bryant, and Ehlers (2003)
doing is effective. Many frontline Psychosocial Recovery shows these reactions will settle down
organisations in Canterbury had also and that most people will probably
The advisory group collates and experience a relatively stable pattern
to contend with working in makeshift summarises a range of empirical
offices and with some staff negatively of healthy functioning in time, given
material. This has allowed the group appropriate resources and support.
affected by the disaster. An advisory to compile an evolving annex to the
group which can take time to research These resources and supports need to
group’s terms of reference. The be planned for alongside, and
and reflect, to take a step back from psychosocial definition encapsulated
operations to examine and search for concurrently to, more specialised care.
by this document envisages recovery
pertinent material, can be a positive as encompassing cultural,
element in disaster recovery settings. Research from Tedeschi and
psychological, social, economic, and Calhoun (2004), and Joseph and
physical (including housing, Linley (2005) have provided evidence
To date, the group has worked infrastructure and physical health)
with numerous key agencies including that a proportion of the affected
dimensions that are part of the population will demonstrate a capacity
MSD, the Ministry of Education, the regeneration of a community which
Prime Minister’s Chief Science for post-adversity growth. Initially this
has experienced adversity. The group may show stress symptoms and
Advisor, and the Christchurch group’s full terms of reference and
Earthquake Recovery Authority will probably benefit, along with the
annex have been made available to rest of the population living through a
(CERA). The group has responded to key agencies contributing to
requests by researching and providing disaster, from basic psychosocial
psychosocial recovery in Canterbury. support. Likewise, in some cases they
empirical information on specific The definition provided by the annex
aspects of psychosocial recovery may benefit from more specialised
has also helped provide the following mental health care.
processes and the style and scope of summary of psychosocial recovery
interventions. Examples of specific literature.
advice are detailed in Table 1. A range of intervention levels are
detailed in Figure 1. The psychosocial
Individual and family recovery recovery process will need to include
Table 1: Examples of Psychosocial
Recovery Advisory Group advice When planning for interventions, general support, more focused
given to date. psychosocial recovery needs to be psychosocial activities and specialised
psychological / psychiatric
interventions. While in the immediate
aftermath, many of the affected
population will need only basic
psychosocial support, analysis of
comparable events suggests that only a
small proportion of the population will
need some additional psychosocial
intervention through community-led,
agency-supported activities designed
to meet their unique needs (Bonanno
et al., 2010; Bryant, 2007; Galea,
Nandi & Vlahov, 2005; Galea, Tracy,
Norris & Coffey, 2008; Galea,
Vlahov, Resnick, Ahern, & Susser,

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Mooney et al

Figure 1: Pyramid of post-disaster

psychosocial needs. Adapted from
Psychosocial Interventions by the
International Federation Reference
Centre for Psychosocial Support,
2009, p. 34.
A much smaller proportion of this
affected population may eventually
need more specialized mental health
care (Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet,
Hughes, & Nelson, 1995; Kornør,
Winje, Ekeberg, Weisæth, Kirkehei,
Johansen et al., 2008; McNally et al.,
2003; National Institute for Health and
Clinical Excellence, 2005). Although
some people do show symptoms of
Acute Stress Reaction and Post-
Traumatic Stress, others may have
clinical levels of depression, anxiety
or behavioural disorders. Some people
with pre-existing problems of mental
health may find their symptoms
exacerbated. Whether directly or
indirectly involved, mental health potentially debilitating reactions; b) benefit from including the assessment
service providers need to be identify and assist those needing more of business continuity planning and
appropriately trained in post-disaster specialized support; and c) give added can advocate for continuity planning
reactions and appropriate evidence- support and human resources to local to be incorporated into national
based interventions. mental health and psychosocial readiness planning. Getting people
support structures who may be back to work can increase their sense
Often psychological distress in the overwhelmed by demands (Boscarino, of perceived control and so makes a
affected population becomes evident Adams, & Figley, 2005; Bryant, 2007; positive contribution to psychosocial
in the post-immediate phase of the Everly & Flynn, 2006; Jones, Roberts recovery (Hobfoll et al., 2007). The
disaster recovery cycle. The & Greenberg, 2003; Raphael, 1986). value of employment adds to needs for
recommended attitude of watchful Community mapping is another way organizational resilience, meaning
waiting should pick up some of the to identify vulnerable populations, and business continuity planning can have
most vulnerable within the community to focus supportive actions. important social and economic
although a proactive approach to care
implications for psychosocial
is often necessary. People may be Although the efficacy of PFA has recovery.
distressed but still hesitate to consult. yet to be extensively examined,
‘Door knocking’ is one example of several authors have made positive
pro-active outreach, as has been In defining who the affected
comments about this approach. population is, the needs of affected
exemplified by local Iwi in the Raphael (1986, p. 283) states that
Canterbury area. Another example of communities and of responders and
psychological first aid is: “basic, non- frontline staff should be taken into
outreach is sensitization and basic intrusive pragmatic care with a focus
training on common reactions and consideration. Advisory group
on listening but not forcing talk; members’ experience suggests the
ways of coping for local GPs and assessing needs and ensuring that
teachers, who are in the front line of needs of those working on the
basic needs are met; encouraging but frontline are often not recognised as
meeting the affected population. Such not forcing company from significant
training should remain mindful that part of a psychosocial recovery effort
others; and protecting from further until these groups experience marked
such front-line staff may also be part harm.” Within the Canterbury region,
of the affected population (National distress. Early support to frontline
an important effort was made to train personnel can strengthen the recovery
Institute for Health and Clinical local human resources and other
Excellence, 2005). effort. Respite, rotation, training, peer
providers in PFA. Such training could support and supervision have been
be provided in anticipation of events able to increase frontline
It is worth resourcing non- to build ready disaster preparedness. effectiveness, not only in the
specialist psychosocial supports such
immediate response phase, but over
as psychological first aid (PFA) and As psychological and social the longer course of recovery (Palm,
community facilitators from the consequences for the affected Polusny, & Follette, 2004; Paton,
immediate response phase onwards. population may be impacted by Violanti, Johnston, Burke, Clarke, &
This can help to a) reduce the risk of disruptions to or loss of livelihood, Keenan, 2008). Frontline support
normal stress reactions evolving into psychosocial support planning can should be planned from the immediate

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Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework

to the long term, including However, a few short definitions over time.
psychological supports, ongoing help frame resilience as part of a
monitoring, and appropriate job design disaster recovery process. Norris, Figure 2 draws a distinction
(including respite and back-ups). Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche and between resilience and adaptive
Regardless of role, each person who Pfefferbaum (2008) defined resilience capacity. This model advocates for the
works with or comes into contact with as “A process linking a set of adaptive concept of adaptation within response,
people affected by a disaster can capacities to a positive trajectory of recovery and rebuilding. It was
influence the recovery and well-being functioning and adaptation after a developed with the express intent of
of those they interact with. Those disturbance” (p.131). Resilience has assessing the degree to which agencies
providing services must be also been conceptualised more as an meet needs for community
appropriately trained, supported and ability or process than as an outcome empowerment when dealing with
have access to regular supportive (Brown & Kulig, 1996; Pfefferbaum, challenging and atypical
supervision, where problems are DeVoe, Stuber, Schiff, Klein, & circumstances (Paton & Johnston,
addressed and individual worker Fairbrother, 2005). Paton and 2006).
capacity is strengthened and Johnston (2001) state that resilience,
secondary consultation is made as at a practical level, then involves Paton and Johnston (2006, p. 7-8)
required. Leadership teams also need developing the capacity of people, discuss how:
to be included in such considerations. communities and societies to
anticipate, cope with, adapt to and …resilience is often used in a
Supporting adaptation to a develop from hazard consequences. manner synonymous with the notion of
changed reality Most authors include the capacity of ‘bouncing back’…and implies a
Although the post-disaster individuals to quickly cope, adapt and capability to return to a previous
recovery has been described within the recommence adaptive functioning as state. This usage, however, captures
advisory group as community an example of resilience. neither the reality of disaster
(re)development under extraordinary experience nor its full implications.
pressures, it is anticipated that The holistic nature and Even if people wanted to return to a
recovery in the Canterbury region will complexity of the recovery process previous state, changes to the
be a complex process and will occur can be illustrated by the following physical, social and psychological
over many years. At the time of diagram, from Paton (in press). A reality of societal life emanating from
writing, due to on-going major holistic recovery process in the the disaster can make this untenable.
aftershocks, the recovery process is Canterbury situation is one which
taking place within the context of a needs to address diverse reactions,
within numerous and varied That is, the post-disaster reality,
chronic stressor that continues to irrespective of whether it reflects the
affect the population. Immediate communities living in a chronic
situation of ongoing substantial direct consequences of disaster or the
response to individual distress and recovery and rebuilding activities
community disruption is vital. aftershocks. Interventions and
processes of engagement therefore undertaken, will present community
However, the manner in which members with a new reality that may
recovery processes are need to be adapted both in place and
started and supported in the
long term will influence
whether positive or negative
outcomes are experienced
over time and in the long

The desired outcome of the

psychosocial recovery
process is to encourage a
well-functioning community
and to foster individual
resilience and well-being.
Resilience has numerous
definitions and this paper
will not attempt a definitive
overview of these.
 Figure 2: Interaction
between hazards, resilience
and vulnerability factors
influences risk of growth or
loss. From Paton, (in press).

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Mooney et al

differ in several fundamental ways Such information and materials result if the atypical and threatening
from that prevailing pre-disaster. are not helpful when people do not circumstances in which people find
have resources to receive or deal with themselves make it difficult for people
It is the changed reality (whether
that information (Hobfoll et al., 2007). to apply their existing skills and
from the disaster itself or the societal
When planning for the promotion of knowledge to the challenges posed by
reaction to it) that people must adapt
positive recovery and reconstruction the post-disaster environment, or even
within the community, it is helpful to in tackling everyday tasks. Not having
This suggests management of
identify priorities. the resources, or being unable to
psychosocial recovery, in the broadest
effectively draw upon existing skills
sense, is charged with assisting people
The first step is to identify the and knowledge to help combat these
to deal with immediate psychosocial
factors that help or hinder people’s challenges can have a negative impact
problems and practical problems such
active engagement in their own on an individual’s psychological and
as longer term housing. Psychosocial
recovery, in what are highly atypical physical well-being.
recovery will also require facilitating
and challenging circumstances (Boyd,
people’s ability to adapt to, assimilate
Quevillon, & Engdahl, 2010; Gillard In answer to limitations outlined
and actively manage their altered
& Paton, 1999; Lyons, Mickelson, by Saleebey (1996), focusing on
present and future demands.
Sullivan, & Coyne, 1998; Mishra, strengths does not mean ignoring the
Suar, & Paton, 2009; Tugade & need to address particular
A strengths-based approach Frederickson, 2004). The importance vulnerabilities. Vulnerability factors
Historically, the psychosocial needs of of this activity and the emphasis on are an important influence on the
individuals and families/whānau have enhancing strengths while supporting likelihood of people experiencing
been seen from a vulnerability the vulnerable derives from negative outcomes (Boyd et al., 2010;
perspective (i.e., pathology such as understanding how people experience Paton & Johnston, 2001; Raphael,
post-traumatic stress, anxiety states a sense of crisis in disaster-affected 1986). Factors include learned
and depression). A strengths-based communities. In general, people’s helplessness, community
approach has been used in social work reaction reflects how event demands fragmentation, loss of normal support
case management (Saint-Jacques, (e.g., loss, disruption) interact with networks, an uneven distribution of
Turcotte, & Pouliot, 2009). This personal and community factors that resources prior to the disaster, uneven
perspective focuses on concepts of influence people’s capacity to cope distribution of disaster impacts, and
empowerment and resilience, together with and adapt to challenging being displaced from the community.
with viable group and community circumstances and those that make
membership (Saleebey, 1996). Needs them more vulnerable to experiencing Individual Recovery and
or strengths assessment of active local deficit and pathological outcomes. Empowerment within
community participation is a Communities
challenging but necessary component In looking from the community
of recovery efforts. Active perspective, strengths and resilience While psychosocial recovery
community participation and using resources can include: social support; needs to resource appropriate
individuals own capacities and spiritual and cultural resources; active interventions to address mental
resources can reduce perceptions of coping styles; collective efficacy; distress and possible pathology
having recovery imposed without any community competence; sense of following a disaster, psychosocial
consultation process. community; place attachment; recovery is influenced by more than
empowerment and trust (Paton & the availability of psychological
This strengths-based approach is Jang, 2011). It is these factors, along supports or mental health services.
especially effective if it is with individual factors such as Although these services and supports
accompanied by practical and problem-solving, hardiness, self- are definitely necessary, they are
psychological support and by reliance, flexible coping repertoire and insufficient to meet the diversity of
information about associated health self-efficacy, which allow people to needs in an affected population. Our
issues including the impacts and deal effectively with most of the knowledge of the social determinants
effects of and normal reactions to such challenges they face in everyday life. of mental health (of the impact of
experiences. Relevant psychosocial Research into disaster recovery poverty, isolation, former trauma and
education materials and other delivery increasingly suggests that the unemployment) on psychological and
can include indicators of distress and resources and competencies that social distress reinforces the
strategies for managing this, the people have developed to deal with interdependence of social and
importance of using existing support mainstream problems can assist their psychological factors on the well-
networks, and information about how natural recovery from disaster (Paton being of individuals and communities.
and when to access other services for & Jang, 2011).
additional support. Other information Seeing individual recovery not as
could cover: insurance; housing; Understanding this relationship isolated persons, but as individuals
budget advice; help in becoming an provides the foundation for recovery within families/whānau and
active community group; as well as planning designed to promote natural communities has strengthened
access to more specialised recovery. A state of social and recovery interventions. Thus,
psychological and health services. psychological disequilibrium can psychosocial recovery is linked to

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Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework

community and overall recovery. disaster, it is important to plan and individual competencies that
Evidence detailed by Shinn and participation effectively. If the contribute to people being empowered
Toohey (2003) and Norris et al. (2008) affected population participates, and able to, for example, identify and
shows that the psychosocial recovery without the capacity or knowledge of represent their needs during the
process needs to build an how to actively take part in recovery, response and recovery phases of
organisational and supportive culture that population will be set-up for an disaster (Paton & Tang, 2009). A
that engages and empowers affected additional negative experience. This commitment to creating opportunities
local individuals and their can compound the feeling of being for authentic participation in recovery
communities. Coupled with overwhelmed, and reiterates the need planning and implementation for all
individual, group and peer support, for creating empowered people and has significant resource and timing
psychosocial activities need to be empowering settings, as illustrated in implications that need to be organised
developed and managed in a Figure 3. within the structured recovery efforts
collaborative manner with the local
community to enable psychosocial Recovery then is sometimes about The second way requires agencies
recovery within an appropriate supporting individuals and groups to and institutions to create empowering
cultural context. be active in their community. This settings by, for example, being
allows individuals to assume some responsive to community strengths
The objectives of recovery feeling of control over the situation by and intervening in ways that promote
intervention are to assist people and shared ownership of an intervention the ability of community members to
communities to regain a sense of and can mean an aspect of recovery is meet their own needs (Dalton, Elias,
control in what are very atypical sustained by the population who will & Wandersman, 2007; Fetterman &
circumstances; to facilitate people’s continue to live in the area. Wandersman, 2004; Paton, Smith,
ability to return to effective Daly, & Johnston, 2008).
functioning and to assist them to make Besides providing opportunities
sense of their experience now and in for community members to participate Given the atypical nature of
the future (Boyd et al., 2010; Paton & in the rebuilding process, community recovery circumstances in which
Johnston, 2001; Raphael, 1986). participation also increases the people find themselves, empowerment
likelihood that interventions will meet relies on people operating within
Crucial to this is communicating community needs. Such participation empowering settings. The degree to
with communities in ways that orient may also offer opportunities to which settings are empowering is a
people to the reality of the situation in enhance community cohesion and function of the degree to which they
which they find themselves, clarifying trust which form a significant are receptive to community needs,
what has happened and what is likely resilience factor (Bonanno et al., expectations and capabilities and
to happen in the short, medium and 2010). operate in ways that meet these needs
long term, and providing information and facilitate self help and natural
that helps people to identify their Existing research by Paton (in recovery (Dalton et al., 2007; Paton et
strengths and resources and to use press) has identified indicators of al., 2008).
them to take action to assist their and empowered people and empowering
others recovery. settings that have been validated for Some Christchurch individuals
New Zealand populations. It has also may not be engaged in their local
Benight and Bandura (2004) and identified ways of assessing the community and may be unfamiliar
Hobfoll et al. (2007) highlight the quality of inter-dependencies between with their neighbours. Rather than
importance of active community people and agencies that can inform building on existing community
participation and community the assessment of the quality of networks, support agencies often need
empowerment and engagement in all relationships between people and to facilitate the development of new
aspects of the recovery time-line. agencies and service provides in networks, to better disseminate
These authors state such relation to meeting people’s needs. information and aid.
empowerment and engagement are The resilience model (see Figure 3)
necessary for a community’s was developed with the express intent In relation to empowering
sustainable recovery and adaptation to of assessing the degree to which settings, it is imperative that those
change. However, some populations agencies meet people’s needs when working in environmental, economic
are not accustomed to participating in dealing with challenging and atypical and structural areas acknowledge how
a recovery effort, and need to be circumstances. their work can facilitate or detract
accompanied initially in this activity. from empowerment required for
Empowerment literature psychosocial recovery. It is hoped
Participation is only empowering (including Eng & Parker, 1994; these agencies will consult with the
if voluntary, constructive and Goodman, Speers, McLeroy, Fawcett, advisory group and other psychosocial
resourced (Arnstein, 1969). Hobfoll et & Parker, 1998) suggests the need to responders in this regard, to increase
al. (2007) and Benight and Bandura facilitate, as far as possible, the availability of a holistic recovery
(2004) argued that although the person community empowerment processes process for the people of Canterbury.
or population have a realistic capacity in two ways. The first concerns
to react in the circumstances of assessing and/or developing the social

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Mooney et al

objectives is part of this learning

experience. Regaining a sense of
control and structure under
challenging circumstances provides
people with a better foundation for
thinking about long term issues and
how they might be approached in
ways that utilise the strengths and
competencies developed in the
recovery environment. People’s ability
to function under stressful
circumstances can be assisted by
ensuring that these activities occur in a
supportive social and cultural
environment. Restoration of a calm
environment also aids clear decision-
making and allows for rehearsal and
practice of activities.

Social support
An important intervention goal is
to facilitate the development of mutual
& Johnston, 2006). This process also
Figure 3. Summary of empirical support within the affected community
aids recovery by helping people focus (Boyd et al., 2010). Considering the
test of resilience / adaptive capacity
on tasks that can be accomplished in potential of social support to help
model. From Paton, (2010) .
the present. people deal with the challenges they
Figure 3 was developed with the face (Karasek & Theorell, 1990), it is
express intent of identifying factors Facilitating the development of important to develop supportive
indicative of empowered people and short-term, realistic and manageable relationships with other people
communities facing natural hazard goals can reduce people’s risk of impacted and those who are
consequences and assessing the degree feeling overwhelmed by thinking responding (i.e., mental health
to which agencies met people’s needs about the number and magnitude of workers and other relief workers). It is
when dealing with challenging and tasks posed by the losses to their therefore imperative that recovery
atypical circumstances. environment, home, and employment. strategies performed by external
Focusing on short-term goals reduces agencies complement social support
Practical Components of the anxiety associated with being practices (Boyd et al., 2010; Paton &
Strength–Based Recovery preoccupied with abstract, vague, long Johnston, 2006). An important way of
term activities (Trope & Liberman, achieving this involves ensuring
The following components are 2003), instead offering the affected
based upon the preceding summary of intervention is consistent with spiritual
population a sense of control over and cultural practices. If, as in the case
psychosocial recovery processes. The their immediate environment.
components are not intended to of some suburbs and districts in
provide an exhaustive guide to Canterbury, there will be an
If people are to focus on emergence of a ‘new community’
psychosocial recovery planning. identifying strategies for action, a
However, we hope they will assist made up of both residing and newly
practical goal is to help develop arriving families and individuals, there
planning for more integrative problem-solving and decision-making
community, family/whānau, and will be a need to facilitate the
skills and to develop the planning development of mutual support.
individual recovery from a strengths skills required to implement strategies
perspective. in ways consistent with community Spiritual and cultural practices
needs and expectations. This
Goal setting and problem combination of activities helps ensure Effective community-based
solving that individuals and groups put intervention places considerable
In the atypical and challenging strategies into practice, thus providing importance on accommodating
circumstances in which people find a stronger foundation for spiritual and cultural values and
themselves in the post-disaster progressively dealing with the practices within the recovery process
environment, people can benefit from demands posed by the disaster over (McCombs, 2010). The validity of
guidance on identifying the problems the medium to long term (Boyd et al., intervention is likely to be increased
and issues that are posed by a need to 2010). by working with community leaders,
change. This involves identifying how both pre-existing and emergent after
personal and community strengths can It is advised that support is given the disaster event, and by
be mobilised to facilitate people’s so that overall reflection on how short- accommodating spiritual and cultural
recovery (Paton & Jang, 2011; Paton term tasks fit into longer term expectations. This in turn plays an

New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 40, No. 4. 2011 • 33 •

Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework

important role in building and Cultural diversity may also represent a iterative. Initial psychosocial
maintaining trust between the different combination of strengths, initiatives need to evolve with needs,
community and professional agencies vulnerabilities and needs among to cover gaps noted by responders and
(Paton et al., 2008). Understanding particular groups. the local population within a recovery
and accommodating spiritual practices planning structure. An ongoing
has implications for needs assessment, In designing a plan for monitoring and evaluation process is
planning and design of the psychosocial recovery, activities necessary to detect needs that are not
intervention, and for monitoring and should be tailored to reflect the needs yet met by the recovery efforts and to
evaluating interventions. expressed from the affected determine whether efforts are effective
community. The existing research on in answering needs. Finding
Prominent issues include community adaptive capacity in appropriate indicators that signal
emphasising the use of rituals and relation to natural hazards provides an effectiveness is a slowly growing
ceremonies within the community evidence-based foundation for this aspect of psychosocial recovery, but a
context. Community activities may or approach, as outlined in Figure 3 and critical part of organising supports for
may not have a religious context and our earlier summary of surrounding psychosocial recovery. Some
may simply be characterised by literature. This not only means that the examples of indicators are the
customary practices of community community conveys its own reduction in symptoms, a return to
members. Providing recovery conception of its needs, but that it daily activities and an increase in
mechanisms consistent with the influences the design of recovery designated coping behaviours. It is
spiritual and cultural orientation of the efforts and is involved in its vital that this ongoing monitoring and
community facilitates people’s ability implementation. Spontaneous evaluation of the recovery process is
to impose meaning on their community activities (e.g., resourced as part of psychosocial
experience, and helps them integrate Christchurch’s Student Army) need to recovery.
these meanings into the fabric of their be incorporated and can be measured
culture and community (Gillard & as part of an integrated approach to Later onset distress and ongoing
Paton, 1999; Lyons et al., 1998; evaluation. community recovery needs reinforce
McCombs, 2010). This integration this necessity for monitoring and
provides a foundation for future Coordination and integration assessment procedures to be in place
adaptive capacity and building The services people need are part for several months and years
people’s ability to respond more of an overall service system that must following the event (Galea, Tracy,
effectively to future disasters. be provided in a coordinated and Norris, & Coffey, 2008). For example,
integrated manner. Without the active symptoms may peak on the
Community diversity collaboration of all involved: local anniversary of the adverse events or as
Recovery planning must also community, government and non- a result of future large aftershocks.
accommodate the many ways different government bodies, psychosocial This necessity arises from the way
groups within affected communities support will be imposed and these figures may vary according to
can experience a disaster and thus sustainability minimised. This is a the type and impact of the disaster, the
present with special needs (Boyd et multi–level understanding of capacities and functioning of the
al., 2010; Cherry, Allen & Galea, psychosocial recovery, in that it can community, the cultural context and
2010). Some of these groups are operate both vertically from our ability to measure within certain
demographic in origin. Specific governance bodies to grassroots scenarios. Sustained assessment can
groups may be more at risk of groups and vice versa, as well as be facilitated using more
developing negative consequences, horizontally through effective community/peer-based processes
including children, elderly people and collaboration and co-operation designed to provide long term social
people living alone. Other vulnerable between groups. Often, in post- support and to provide pathways to
groups may be characterised by those disaster situations, structures need to more specialised care, if required. For
with a history of prior trauma, mental work together using a cross-cutting example, community centres can
illness, chronic illness, and disability. approach that differs from their usual, participate in collecting information
Diversity can also be reflected in specific-focused interventions. on the effectiveness of interventions,
people’s event-related experiences Coordination by one recognised and ongoing needs for those
(Paton, Millar, & Johnston, 2001). For person or body can help this necessary interventions. Identifying how this
example, people who are injured, who process. Often, in post-disaster needs assessment can occur is an area that
have lost family/whānau members, out-number resources, conflict will will benefit from additional research.
homes and livelihood may present arise and a collaborative approach Pre-existing Canterbury research (by
with specific needs. Family/whānau may need to be mediated between Becker, 2010) used variables in
members living in different parts of parties. Paton’s (2010) resilience model and
the country and people who might be could be used to provide some
visiting the area when a disaster struck baseline indicators.
Monitoring and evaluation
can also present with distinctive Our advisory group is mindful
recovery needs which must be that the recovery process in
carefully assessed and responded to. Canterbury is ongoing and relatively

• 34 • New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 40, No. 4. 2011

Mooney et al

Conclusion deficits, our advisory group promotes and how these processes can be
the need to consider both strengths enhanced.
The present Canterbury situation
and vulnerabilities, when working to
is marked by continuing after-shocks
support adaptive capacity. It is not possible to clearly predict
which impact on the community and
how consultation needs will change
delay the access and re-building of the
This strengths-based approach to over time, and how processes will be
Central Business District and other
recovery can include goal-setting and affected by ongoing series of
suburbs. The aftershocks prolong
problem-solving, to help disaster- aftershocks or the financial aftermath.
temporary accommodation and limit
affected populations focus on the We are sure that academic
communication and information on
potential for longer-term objectives. engagement will continue to form an
sustainability of some suburbs.
The provision and facilitation of social important part of the Canterbury
Ongoing geological instability
support also become an important recovery. The advisory group is
continues to disrupt routine daily life
practical component of strength-based honoured to be able to contribute to
and may hinder some recovery
recovery, as does valuing and the re-development of this often
processes. Many core assumptions of
supporting both cultural and spiritual remarkably resilient region.
certainty and predictability have been
practices, and community diversity.
repeatedly violated. Such repeated
Coordination and mediation appear Appendix
events can provoke ongoing anxiety
invaluable, to facilitate constructive
and distress that may influence how The Advisory Group was made up
collaborations between recovery
people respond. of the following individuals:
stakeholders, from the local to the
regional scale. In the immediate term,
Pre-existing complexities of even Maureen F. Mooney: Research Officer,
it is important that over-arching
the most defined and focused JCDR. She has spent the last ten years
monitoring and evaluation is using her skills as a psychologist in
approach to psychosocial recovery
resourced and put in place. This is psychosocial support response and the
have become even more convoluted.
necessary to address gaps in supports, Humanitarian field including Haiti,
The JCDR psychosocial recovery
new needs and whether the recovery Palestine, Pakistan, Colombia, the
advisory group aims to help inform
effort is effective. This requires the Asian and African continents. Her area
recovery efforts being planned for this of interest is resilience and coping of
establishment of both operational and
long- term and uniquely challenging individuals and communities.
strategic recovery management
context. This advisory group offers a
systems and practices. The Canterbury
range of experience and expertise, Douglas Paton: Professor, School of
recovery process will be ongoing for
based on the discipline of psychology, Psychology, University of Tasmania.
some time. It has provided New
to help advise key agencies involved He has expertise in all-hazards risk
Zealand with a challenge, but also communication, assessing and
in the Canterbury recovery. The
with a chance to enhance all developing community resilience, and
advisory group uses scientific
approaches to disaster recovery. community recovery following natural
literature to provide timely advice on
complex psychosocial recovery topics.
The advisory group continues to
To date, this literature has emphasised
engage with key agencies working to Ian de Terte: Clinical Psychologist, School
the need for many levels of of Psychology, Massey University. He
support the Canterbury recovery.
intervention, ranging from the general has clinical and research experience in
Advisory group members are also
provision of basic living requirements, the areas of disaster mental health,
involved in designing research
to community-based supports and PTSD, occupational trauma,
projects dedicated to a better
specialised interventions for a small psychological resilience, and vicarious
understanding of the Canterbury trauma. He is also completing a
proportion of the population.
context. It is hoped this research can doctorate regarding the relationship
ultimately give insight into the between psychological resilience and
Seeing individual recovery not as
consequences of the earthquake for occupational trauma.
isolated persons, but as people within
individuals, family/whānau,
families/whānau and communities
communities and organisations, over Sarb Joha: Associate Professor, Massey
strengthens recovery interventions. University, and Chair of the
varying time frames. Other research
Individual psychosocial recovery Psychosocial Recovery Advisory
may analyse societal factors that
becomes integrally linked to overall Group, JCDR. As a clinical and health
influence community resilience to the
community recovery. Evidence shows psychologist, he has research and
immediate and longer term impacts of
that the psychosocial recovery process clinical interests in capability and
an earthquake. Implications of
needs to build an organisational and capacity building for psychological
persistent aftershocks, infrastructure support, before and after disaster
supportive culture that engages and
disruptions and temporary or events, as well as in disaster mental
empowers affected local individuals
permanent re-housing on resilience health.
and their communities. Surrounding
and adaptive capacity is another area
research literature has impressed the
that may receive research attention. A. Nuray Karanci: Professor, Department
need for a more strengths-based
Likewise, research may look at of Psychology, Middle East Technical
approach to recovery. Rather than University, Turkey. She has extensive
processes by which society transitions,
referring to disaster-affected experience in post earthquake
recovers and adapts after the
populations in terms of unavoidable psychosocial dimensions and support,
disruption caused by the earthquakes,

New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 40, No. 4. 2011 • 35 •

Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework

and has researched factors in David Johnston: Professor, School of (pp.115-130). Thousand Oaks, CA:
preparedness for future hazard events. Psychology, Massey University and Sage.
JCDR Director. His research has
Dianne Gardner: Senior Lecturer, focused on reducing the vulnerability of Dalton, J.H., Elias, M.J., & Wandersman,
Industrial/Organisational Psychology, society, the economy and infrastructure A. (2007) Community psychology:
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New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 40, No. 4. 2011 • 37 •

Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework

Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. Author’s Note Tel:

(2004). Resilient individuals use +64.4.8015799 ext 62168; Fax:
positive emotion to bounce back from Corresponding author: David Johnston, +64.4.8014984.
negative emotional experiences. Joint Centre for Disaster Research,
Journal of Personality and Social Massey University, PO Box 756,
Psychology, 86(2), 320-333. Wellington 6140.

 Container train capturing ongoing rock falls, June 2011 — ©2011 Geoff Trotter

• 38 • New Zealand Journal of Psychology Vol. 40, No. 4. 2011