Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework Informed by Evidence

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Psychosocial Recovery from Disasters: A Framework Informed by Evidence

Article excerpt

The earthquakes in Canterbury during 2010 and 2011 have created unprecedented demands on agencies tasked with disaster recovery. An earthquake sequence of this nature and extent in Canterbury was unanticipated, and the multiple agencies involved needed to rapidly coordinate their response and recovery planning. The earthquake in Canterbury on 22 February 2011 highlighted an acute need to garner a breadth of New Zealand and international disaster recovery expertise to help inform the many facets of a rapidly developing recovery context.

The Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR) is a collaboration between Massey University and GNS Science. Acting on a request from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), JCDR rapidly formed an advisory group of specialists with experience researching and working in psychosocial recovery from disasters (see Appendix). The advisory group represents a range of diverse specialties and experience based around the discipline of psychology. The group's expertise has been applied to providing a range of advice to key agencies involved after the earthquakes in Canterbury.

In addition to drawing on extended professional experience in the psychosocial field, the advisory group has based their advice on empirical evidence to provide timely but quality advice. This evidence highlights the need to provide many levels of intervention, ranging from the general provision of basic living requirements to specialised interventions for a small proportion of the population suffering from the impact of individual trauma and related difficulties.

All advice focussed on a psychosocial approach to post-disaster recovery. This approach to recovery aims to ease physical and psychological difficulties for individuals, families/whanau and communities, as well as building and bolstering social and psychological well-being (Ministry of Health, 2007). This entails addressing vulnerabilities as well as looking for and enhancing the strengths of affected individuals and communities. The broad nature of psychosocial recovery goals demands collaboration between an extensive range of professionals such as psychologists, sociologists, economists and urban designers.

The group's own working definition of psychosocial recovery is set out in an annex to our terms of reference and is discussed within the current article. The definition was written to focus the efforts of our advisory group, and does not claim to encompass all potential aspects of psychosocial recovery. The definition does include aspects of mental health needs and psychological support, alongside communities' capacity to respond and adapt in the face of adversity. The group's definition of psychosocial recovery also focuses on the importance of community participation and engagement within recovery governance. Such participation and engagement has important effects on a population's recovery, resilience, and adaptive capacity.

Although it is tempting to regard 'recovery' as a simple process, some consideration needs to be given to the intended meaning of this term and other language used around it. The term recovery is often embedded in a model of repair and restoration to a pre-injury or pre-illness state. Accordingly, individuals may consider that successful recovery is achieved only if they return to how they were prior to the disaster (i.e., 'returning to normal'). This interpretation of recovery is neither possible nor desirable after a major disaster, and so it is useful for agencies to clarify their intended use of the term 'recovery'. This will help agencies to focus the attention of individuals and society on coping positively with a disaster, progressing toward a situation that has psychosocially and physically changed, rather than focusing on trying to return to a pre-earthquake state.

Advisory group collaborations have highlighted practical components of a strength-based approach to recovery. …

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