Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pssychosocial path to recovery after the Oklahoma City Tornadoes

Psychosocial path to recovery after the Oklahoma City Tornadoes
Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz[1]

Psychosocial refers to the emotional reaction of a person when they realize that they are experiencing an event for which they are not physically equipped to manage successfully. There are three central factors in psychosocial support: behavioral, spiritual and social. The behavioral part is usually addressed with behavioral health strategies (i.e. crisis intervention, counseling or psychological first aid). Spiritual care is often a component used to address death and destruction. The social component emerges after the immediate crisis and last for a longer period of time, and it usually alleviates the traumatic stress as a result of secondary stressors (i.e. returning to normalcy, re-establishment of place, reconstruction of neighborhood and homes, and assisting the recovery efforts in the community).

As I write this commentary there are search and rescue activities going on. We are not sure how hard the tornadoes hit, but we know there are some very specific actions that need to take place in the next days, weeks and months. Below are six essential steps:

·      Alleviate fear by facilitating linking with family, neighbors, community and friends.

·      Assure safety and security through satisfying basic needs, providing shelter, and initiate behavioral health and spiritual care activities that promote calmness.

·      Engage disaster affected people in conducting assessment of the affected area, focusing on prioritizing the need for natural and built structures that are needed to begin the recovery process (i.e. school, day care, hospital, senior center, churches, and community stores).

·      Disaster affected people identify their immediate needs and received assistance with temporary shelter, neighborhood cleanup campaigns, and defining steps in the recovery. This will provide guidance to external partners and interested people.

·      Promote Neighbor-to-Neighbor psychosocial support, and activities for children, the elderly and those with functional needs.

·      Take time to rest, through celebrations and information. At first of the little steps to recovery and later community wide celebrations, fairs, and other collaborative activities.

This is a time when the affected community needs external assistance, however in the coming days and weeks recovery should be people centric. Giving a voice at the decision making table to the affected neighbors will go a long way to enhancing resilience, and promoting physical, spiritual and psychological well being.

[1] Dr. Prewitt Diaz ( has over 30 years of experience in community recovery post-disasters. He served as Senior Psychosocial Advisor for a major INGO during the recovery after the 2004 South Asia Tsunami, and was awarded the 2008 APA International Humanitarian Award. He is the CEO of the Center for Psychosocial Support in Disasters

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