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Pointers to psychosocial recovery in Christchurch

Friday, February 17, 2012
Research provides pointers to psychosocial recovery in Christchurch

Newly published research is highlighting some important factors that can enhance psychosocial recovery after the Christchurch earthquakes.

Writing in a special issue of the New Zealand Journal of Psychology, the Psychosocial Recovery Advisory Group – an expert panel set up after the February 2011 earthquake – advocate a “strengths-based” approach to the recovery.

The advisory group was set up by the Massey University/GNS Science Joint Centre for Disaster Research, and advises key agencies involved in the Canterbury recovery.

Maureen Mooney, lead author on the article, says recovery does not involve returning to what was normal before a disaster, but finding a new balance. In the case of Christchurch, the process is especially complex because frequent and sometimes large aftershocks are a “chronic stressor”. “Individuals, families and communities will gradually settle into a ‘new normal’ and that is a long-term process,” she says.

Ms Mooney says the advisory group is encouraging agencies to focus on empowerment and building resilience (community strengths). “This approach is especially effective if it is accompanied by practical and psychological support and by information about associated health issues including the impacts and effects of and normal reactions to such experiences.”

Some practical components of a strength-based recovery recommended by the advisory group are:
Goal setting and problem solving: eg helping people develop short-term, realistic and manageable goals, which build on their strengths and can limit a feeling of being overwhelmed
Social support: eg facilitating mutual support amongst neighbours
Spiritual and cultural practices: eg providing recovery mechanisms consistent with the spiritual and cultural orientation of the community, which helps people impose meaning on their experience
Community diversity: eg incorporating spontaneous community initiatives such as Christchurch’s Student Volunteer Army
Coordination and integration: eg coordination by one recognised person or body to foster collaboration across local community, government and non-government agencies
Monitoring and evaluation: eg reactions may peak around anniversaries or as a result of large aftershocks highlighting the need for ongoing monitoring and assessment procedures. Also, interventions need to be evaluated and monitored so that evolving needs and gaps in the response can be picked up.


Background Notes for Editors

What are psychosocial effects?
A briefing paper from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee, May 2011, defines psychosocial effects as: “both individual psychological effects impacting on how people feel and social effects impacting on how they related to each other.” It points out that these effects “are inevitable and a normal part of human psychology.”

Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR): Quick Facts
• Opened in December 2006
• A joint venture between Massey University and GNS Science
• Based within Massey’s Department of Psychology, at Massey’s Wellington campus
• Currently supervising 21 PhD students
• Massey University is the only university in New Zealand to offer a Doctoral degree endorsed in emergency management (PhD in emergency management), and also delivers a Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Postgraduate Diploma and Masters degree in emergency management.
• In the past year, while focused on advice provision and research in Canterbury, Centre staff have also hosted visiting international experts from the United States, China, Australia, Turkey and the World Bank, and made over 50 presentations to expert audiences overseas.

Psychosocial Recovery Advisory Group: Members

Maureen F. Mooney: Research Officer, JCDR. She has spent the last ten years using her skills as a psychologist in psychosocial support response and the humanitarian field including Haiti, Palestine, Pakistan, Colombia, Asian and African continents. Her area of interest is resilience and coping of individuals and communities.

Douglas Paton: Professor, School of Psychology, University of Tasmania. He has expertise in all-hazards risk communication, assessing and developing community resilience, and community recovery following natural disasters.

Ian de Terte: Clinical Psychologist, School of Psychology, Massey University. He has clinical and research experience in the areas of disaster mental health, PTSD, occupational trauma, psychological resilience, and vicarious trauma. He is also completing a doctorate about the relationship between psychological resilience and occupational trauma.

Sarb Johal: Associate Professor, Massey University, and Chair of the Psychosocial Recovery Advisory Group, JCDR. As a clinical and health psychologist, he has research and clinical interests in capability and capacity building for psychological support, before and after disaster events, as well as in disaster mental health.

A. Nuray Karanci: Professor, Department of Psychology, Middle East Technical University, Turkey. She has extensive experience in post-earthquake psychosocial dimensions and support, and has researched factors in preparedness for future hazard events.

Dianne Gardner: Senior Lecturer, Industrial/Organisational Psychology, Massey University. She has research and practical expertise in psychological wellbeing at work, risk management as applied to occupational health and safety, organisational behaviour and occupational stress.

Susan Collins: Research Officer, JCDR. Over the past 10 years, she has used her community psychology training to assist challenged communities with their revitalisation and recovery. Susan has been involved with rural communities that experienced flooding in the Bay of Plenty Region, and more recently in response to the Darfield Earthquake and the Queensland floods.

Bruce Glavovic: EQC Chair in Natural Hazards Planning, Massey University, and JCDR Associate Director. His work has focused on building sustainable communities by facilitating dialogue and collaboration between diverse and often contending interests. His research encompasses natural hazards planning, collaborative planning and consensus.

David Johnston: Professor, School of Psychology, Massey University and JCDR Director. His research has focused on reducing the vulnerability of society, the economy and infrastructure to hazard events.

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