Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

Resiliency and Recovery: Lessons from the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina

Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

Resiliency and Recovery: Lessons from the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina

Article excerpt

Separated by continents and cultures, survivors of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina share a common bond in their extreme trauma and ensuing struggles. The authors discuss and illustrate core ideas based on the commonalities derived from the experiences of women survivors of these two disasters.

Separados tanto por continentes come culturas, los supervivientes del tsunami asiatico y el huracan Katrina comparten el vinculo comun de su enorme trauma y las dificultades subsiguientes. Los autores discuten e ilustran las ideas fundamentales basandose en las similitudes derivadas a partir de las experiencias de las mujeres que sobrevivieron a ambos desastres.


Disasters challenge counselors to work in unfamiliar environments to help survivors of diverse backgrounds move beyond survival and find resiliency for continuation of their daily lives. Although it is helpful for counselors to work out of a common framework in such settings, the literature does not provide much guidance in this regard. We use our experience in counseling women survivors of the Asian tsunami (henceforth called Tsunami) and Hurricane Katrina (henceforth called Katrina) to discuss and illustrate core ideas by highlighting their shared experiences and their coping mechanisms, although they were two culturally very different groups.

Survivors of these two disasters have shared a trauma of incomprehensible magnitude. In both disasters, survivors suffered countless physical injuries, lost their homes and personal belongings, and, in many cases, witnessed the horrific deaths of family members. In the Tsunami, people from the coastal regions had to flee to homes of relatives or provisional refugee camps. In Katrina, many survivors lost contact with family members and for months afterward were still attempting to locate displaced family members. In both disasters, the basic societal infrastructure was destroyed, and survivors were left without food, safe drinking water, sanitary living conditions, and medical care. The fragility of existence played a large role in the lives of survivors. Therefore, although the twin disasters occurred in different years, on different continents, and in different cultures, the human experience of trauma was no different.

Despite being disproportionately affected (MacDonald, 2005), many women survivors of these disasters demonstrated an incredible ability to survive, cope, protect their families, and resume their daily roles. Since immigrating to the United States in 1985, the first author has visited Sri Lanka almost every year, and she returned there in July 2005 to help in the recovery effort and work with women survivors of the Tsunami. The second author worked with women survivors of Katrina in Louisiana. Later, in comparing our counseling work with these survivors, we became increasingly aware that the women's collective experiences demonstrated surprising similarities in the ways they coped with the disasters. This article describes these coping mechanisms and resiliency factors and draws parallels between them to identify and illustrate core ideas of resiliency and coping.

the survivors


Seven women residents of a tsunami refugee camp in Sri Lanka who had suffered enormous personal and material loss received mental health counseling from the first author. The local parish priest invited the first author to visit the parish and requested her counseling services for these women, who he thought would benefit from counseling. The women stated that they felt especially honored to be chosen to receive counseling and for their stories to be recorded and shared with others.

The women ranged in age from 27 to 64 years. They were all Christians and actively participated in religious activities. They were of lower socioeconomic status, almost at the poverty level. Four were married, three were widowed, and all had children. All had a grade school education, and four had a high school diploma. …

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