Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

A Grounded Theory of the Practice of Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care: The Central Role of Practical Presence

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

A Grounded Theory of the Practice of Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care: The Central Role of Practical Presence

Article excerpt

Disasters can have a significant effect on survivors' mental and religious/spiritual (R/S) health and well-being. On the one hand, they can lead to various forms of psychological distress (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], or substance abuse) and R/S distress (e.g., R/S struggle such as doubt, questioning, or anger toward God). On the other hand, they can catalyze a process of perceived or actual posttraumatic growth (e.g., psychological or R/S growth as the result of the survivors' disaster-related experiences; Aten & Boan, 2016; Aten et al., 2015, 2018; Aten, O'Grady, Milstein, Boan, & Schruba, 2014; Park, 2016; cf. Park, Currier, Harris, & Slattery, 2017).

There is vast and growing scholarly literature that describes the importance of incorporating religion and spirituality into the holistic care of disaster survivors (e.g., Aten & Boan, 2016; Aten et al., 2014, 2015, 2018; Koenig, 2006; Massey, 2006; Roberts & Ashley, 2017). However, there has been relatively little examination of how this incorporation actually happens in disaster response efforts in the real world. Therefore, the purpose of this qualitative study was to develop a grounded theory explaining how disaster spiritual and emotional care (DSEC) providers actually tend to practice DSEC in the field.

Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care

What is Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care?

DSEC refers to any R/S or psychological intervention provided to disaster survivors in order to (a) mitigate their psychological and R/S distress and (b) promote their mental and R/S health and well-being. DSEC can be offered in response to natural and humancaused disasters, as well as during all stages of a disaster (e.g., short-term response and longterm recovery). It can be provided by professionals (e.g., religious, mental health, humanitarian aid, and emergency management professionals) or by trained laypersons. Moreover, DSEC can be offered to people of all developmental levels (e.g., child, adolescent, and adult survivors) and all cultural groups, and it can be delivered in individual, family, or group formats. In addition, it can be provided both at a microlevel (i.e., a person-focused level) and at a macrolevel (e.g., a communityfocused level; Aten, 2012; Aten & Boan, 2016; Aten et al., 2014, 2015; Roberts & Ashley, 2017).

A Historical Overview of Disaster Spiritual and Emotional Care

over the last 25 years, there has been increasing recognition that religion and spirituality play a central role in the lives, experiences, and recovery of many (if not most) disaster survivors (e.g., Aten & Boan, 2016; Aten et al., 2014, 2015, 2018; Koenig, 2006; Massey, 2006; Roberts & Ashley, 2017). Correspondingly, there has been increased integration of R/S elements into formal disaster response efforts at the international, federal, state, and local levels (Koenig, 2006; Roberts & Ashley, 2017), including formal incorporation of religious professionals (e.g., clergy, chaplains, etc.) and organizations into disaster relief and recovery. A growing number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations have been founded to assist in this process, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood partnerships and the New York Disaster Interfaith Services.

In addition, the Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD)-a large nonprofit association of over 100 disaster relief organizations-has championed the development of resources, standards, and guidelines for providing DSEC. Most notably, they have published the National VOAD "Points of Consensus" (i.e., ethical standards and operating principles) for disaster spiritual care (National VOAD, 2009) and disaster emotional care (National VOAD, 2015), as well as the National VOAD Disaster Spiritual Care Guidelines (National VOAD, 2014). …

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