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Volume 2008-1

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
ISSN:  1174-4707
Volume : 2008-1

Douglas Paton, School of Psychology, University of Tasmania, Locked Bag 1342, Launceston, Tasmania 7250, Australia.. Email: Douglas.Paton@utas.edu.au

Volume : 2008-1

Douglas Paton

School of Psychology,
University of Tasmania
Launceston, Tasmania

Psychosocial Support in Community and Educational Contexts

Growing awareness of the potential for traumatic experiences to be resolved in ways characterised by adaptation and growth outcomes has fuelled interest in identifying the precursors of such salutary outcomes. In their article, Julie Wilson and Joseph Boden contribute to this debate by examining how personality, social support and religious beliefs contribute to Posttraumatic Growth. In addition to shedding light on the complex pathways that can lead to growth outcomes, their discussion of the relationship between personality, the diverse facets of social support, and religious participation and spirituality and positive outcomes identifies several avenues for future research into the relationship between traumatic experience and posttraumatic growth. Armed with this knowledge, it will be possible to develop programs to facilitate people’s ability to cope with, adapt to and grow from their experience of traumatic events and disasters.

The theme of identifying how to facilitate adaptive and positive outcomes from adverse experience is continued in the next article. Here the focus turns from factors operating at the level of the individual and the social setting in which these factors influence recovery to the relationship between people and place.

When they occur, large-scale disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the December 26th 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, do more than create substantial physical losses. Their impact can also threaten people’s sense of place, with the consequent loss of meaningful engagement with place constituting a secondary consequence of large scale hazard impacts.

In the context of exploring how disaster experience can disrupt people’s sense of place, Joseph Prewitt Diaz and Anjana Dayal discuss psychosocial support strategies that can be used to facilitate re-building people’s sense of place following disaster. They do so by focusing on community-based strategies that can inform the development of functional, psychological and social competencies in ways that contribute to both recovery from a specific event and the development of people’s future adaptive capacity or resilience. The latter is particularly important for communities that face the possibility of repetitive exposure to hazard events. The issues canvassed in this article will become increasingly important as societies around the world consider how to facilitate adaptation to the enduring changes that may be forced upon communities as a result of climate change processes. In the context of the latter, a key social policy objective must be to develop a sustained capacity for community and societal adaptation.

Furthermore, by contributing to the development of social capital, the strategies outlined by Prewitt Diaz and Dayal can add value to community life in ways that transcend any specific event. By developing strategies with the potential to increase the longer-term return on investment, the approach outlined by Prewitt Diaz and Dayal could also serve as a vehicle for convincing policy makers and planners of the cost-effectiveness of more comprehensive community-based intervention and the wider benefits that can accrue from providing financial and other support for such initiatives.

One way in which the future social capital of a community can be detrimentally affected by a disaster is through its consequences for future generations, with the impact of hazard experience on educational outcomes representing one such possibility. In their short communication, Teuku Tahlil and Ches Jones discuss some preliminary work on the relationship between the community impact of the 2004 tsunami and educational outcomes in Aceh.

While loss of family members did not affect university attendance, Tahlil and Jones report the possibility that levels of hazard experience, the level of fear associated with the latter, and the loss of personal possessions did. Adverse consequences for attendance did not, however, translate into poorer academic performance. Whilst their findings must remain tentative at this stage, the data reported by Tahlil and Jones raise a need to examine whether psychosocial support strategies such as those outlined in the earlier papers in this volume are operating within the university community in ways that facilitated recovery and mitigated any adverse impacts on academic performance.

Collectively, the papers that comprise this issue are indicative of the growing wealth of resources that can be drawn upon by emergency planning agencies to facilitate the adaptive capacity of the communities they serve. A corollary of the views expressed here is that not pursuing these options will have the effect of increasing people’s future vulnerability or, at the very least, losing a valuable opportunity to use a disaster as a catalyst for future development in ways that ensures that one legacy of an disaster event is a stronger, more resilient community.


Douglas Paton © 2008. The author assigns to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

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