Disaster Relief Team: Managing the Psychology of Disaster


Due to their unexpected and massive nature, disasters violently break up the normal course of people’s lives and of the community in general, overpowering their ability to respond. We need to prepare ourselves in a way that will make it easy for us to face and respond to disasters, both at the level of emotional comfort and spiritual and by providing practical support.
Disasters create a deep emotional impact on people, communities and response teams, with consequences that can last a very long time. But if the BK family and the population in general has been prepared, their ability to face the threat will be greater and the recovery process will be faster.

Multi-sector organisation and a co-ordinated approach have been shown to reduce the impact of a disaster, as well as provide fast relief, and better acceptance and understanding of its consequences.
People act or react according to their inner and collective resources when facing situations. This is often related to the strengths they have developed or emerged during their life, their self-esteem and the social support network available to them. For this reason, each one’s expression of grief and mourning, about changes in life and crises, is different.


What is spiritual care?
In disaster, spiritual care is anything that assists the human spirit in coping with the suffering and challenges embedded in disaster. This may include creating a safe environment, establishing relationships of trust where people can express themselves and be heard, enabling people to find solutions to their problems, and referring them to other services for physical and mental needs. Spiritual care also means giving regard to all areas of a persons life.
Spiritual care includes anything that assists an individual, family or community in drawing upon their own spiritual perspective as a source of strength, hope and healing.

Spiritual Care Providers

Spiritual Care Providers (SCP) nurture and encourage people’s spiritual ideas and bolster the ability of these ideas to act as a source of strength in difficult times. SCPs often provide a quiet and patient listening presence while people share strong feelings and emotions of loss, anger and pain. As a SCP one needs to be prepared for and accept strong expressions of emotion. Remember never to correct or contradict any expression of faith or doubt. All expressions are authentic and true for the person receiving care. If you sense any behaviour or ideas that could put the survivor or others at risk, inform a MHP immediately.
In the context of disaster SCPs may not share a religious or faith tradition with the individuals, families and communities whom they are serving. Those whom you are caring for may not belong to any religious community at all. Thus, spiritual care endeavors to provide sensitive, appropriate care for all persons and to celebrate and respect every spiritual perspective, including non.

Recognising Spiritual Unrest

Symptoms of spiritual unrest that may be exhibited during disaster include; Reconsidering ones basic spiritual beliefs, trying to make sense of why such a tragedy occurred, feeling isolated from previously held beliefs, closing oneself off from loved ones, feeling despair and hopelessness, repeatedly questioning and wondering about life and death.

Manage Spiritual Unrest

One of the most important things is to listen to people, and not espouse your beliefs, but enable them to find spiritual understanding of their own. If they ask, encourage them to find their own answers. This will be of far more use to them. A disaster is not the time to try to ‘convert’ someone to your beliefs. In fact, some of the most meaningful experiences I have heard of take place when people of one faith, have received support and spiritual counseling from someone of another faith. The unity and cohesion this brings leaves a powerful and positive effect on the person, enhancing their resilience and recovery.
Spiritual Care may involve arranging and appropriately providing for religious resources, rituals and experiences if the recipient of the care identifies with a specific faith tradition. If requested, such religious symbols can bestow a sense of belonging and comfort.
If someone’s behaviour or a request seems unusual or extreme, be prepared to refer them to a Mental Health Professional (MHP) if required (see

Collaboration: Spiritual Care Providers and Mental Health Professionals). SCPs often gain a high level of trust from people. This is important and must not be broken.

Ensure you respect the confidentiality of those you care for.
1. Offer presence and hospitality
2. Meet, accept and respect persons as they are
3. Never evangelize, proselytize or exploit persons in vulnerable need – this can cause further harm

Providing Spiritual Care

Involve Spiritual Leaders
Most SCPs in disaster will be the local community faith leaders. They will have different levels of education and training pertaining to their own faith tradition and its systems of instruction and certification. Their role is a crucial one—for they are already recognized by the community and will be sought out for spiritual support. They appropriately provide spiritual support for their own congregants and members; they also provide spiritual care for other members of the community who look to them in times of disaster or crisis. The BK’s may fit this category.

Create a Community Group
Create a core community group that includes people from the community. It is crucial to involve local and community leaders who have the respect and support of their community. This must include representatives of each faith, each race, each gender, and each age group (youth, adults, elderly). It is important to involve all stakeholders (those with a personal interest or who are directly affected by decisions). Cooperate with people who show initiative in helping the local community. SCPs are not so much servers as carers and collaborators. Listen to what people need.
NB. Ensure that there is cooperation between the community leaders and faith leaders who are in your core group. Often what happens is that there is disagreement between two people (or agencies) creating further conflict, causing further distress.

Spiritual Care Guidelines

Create and develop guidelines for Spiritual Care that everyone agrees with. Examples are:
• Respect all faith traditions
• Maintain confidentiality
• Do not preach
• Respect social diversity
• Have clear professional boundaries that guarantee safety of disaster survivors
• Ensure that SCP’s function at levels appropriate to their experience and backgrounds

Further Principles
• Don’t avoid discussing tragedies or referring to deceased people by name.
• Never preach or ‘give gyan’ to anyone.
• Offer meditation or prayer if requested.
• Support people in finding their own solutions to problems they are facing.
• Be cautious about giving. Do not feel you need to ‘fix’ anything.
• Allow people to share their memories and their stories. This allows people to make sense of events.
• Be honest about your own feelings and emotions.
• Encourage people to maintain and/ or restore connection to loved ones and people within their community.
• Help people feel they belong and that they matter.
• Never take the moral high ground. SCPs are there to serve.
• Be aware that SCPs are vulnerable during times of disaster and must also be cared for.

SCPs should partner with MHPs in caring for communities in disaster. Spiritual care and emotional care comprise common elements but are distinct healing modalities. SCPs can serve an important role by referring individuals to MHPs in order to receive care for their mental health needs.
Consider referring to MHPs if clients exhibit any of the following behaviors:
• flat, expressionless affect of face or voice
• thinking or talking about hurting oneself or others
• uncontrollable outbursts of emotion
• persistent nightmares
• difficulties in personal relationships
• expressing violent or self-destructive wishes.
Similarly, a MHP may refer a client to you, as a SCP. Some triggers or themes that a MHP might want to look for in this regard may include someone:
• Desiring to experience rituals and receive resources from a faith tradition.
• Yearning to reconcile previously held beliefs.
• Asking questions about hope, God and other spiritual topics.

While a disaster may have initially evoked feelings of rage, dismay and shock, the transition to long-term recovery may involve feelings of exhaustion, confusion and despair. SCPs will care for individuals, families and the community over the long term, with attention to support, community integration, and helping people to move forward on the basis of their own faith. Disaster SCPs naturally become familiar with the symbols and resources of the world religions and establish and encourage partnerships among all faith leaders in a community.

Encourage people to verbalize tangible examples of successes during other periods of difficulty in several areas, including:

Personal – One’s personal life history
Family – The broader history of one’s parents, grandparents and ancestors
Cultural – The experience of one’s nation, ethnicity and culture
Spiritual – The history of one’s faith group or spiritual perspective.

This will help to stimulate hope in affected individuals and communities. Also, the above areas represent concentric circles of existence and meaning in life. When one brings to mind examples of success in the face of adversity, a renewed and bolstered sense of hope emerges that can sustain an individual, family and community throughout the current crisis.

Understanding the emotional and psychosocial impact of disaster

Importance of preparedness and personal resources

Through preparedness, we develop the ability to respond to any emergency quickly, thereby decreasing the risks. The less vulnerable people are, the less chance of a tragedy occurring. However, the way people cope with a situation depends on personal traits, especially the appreciation and use of their strengths, while understanding their vulnerabilities.

Children and adolescents are dependent on external support and do not necessarily understand the situation. Elders may have physical or emotional ailments that cause dependency. Women usually have a bigger share of responsibility in the caring and maintenance of stability within the family. People with mental or physical ailments are vulnerable in disaster situations.

People who have been actively engaged in a positive reflective activity, over a period of time, may be more likely to maintain a peaceful, strong and stable inner state. Nevertheless, disasters have a strong impact on the self, so, with the understanding that anything may happen suddenly, the regular practice of prayer, positive contemplation and meditation has been shown to be beneficial (ref)
From a psychosocial perspective, there are three primary stages in a disaster:
Pre-disaster stage

In the stage immediately before the impact of a disaster, there are often signs of a possible disaster occurring within the foreseeable future. In this stage, people are frequently in denial, which affects their perception and makes them resistant to change. On the other hand, it is in this stage that all the preparedness should be developed in order to avert serious consequences.

Impact stage
In this stage, the community’s daily life is affected and completely disrupted. Reactions emerge, such as restlessness, fear, lack of control and disorganisation. Emotional reactions are contagious and they can trigger collective fright or panic. This situation produces great chaos and inhibits any type of operational planning. Both for mind and body, this is the time for the individual to make effort to analyse their internal and external situation in order to act in a way gives protection against the surrounding dangers.

Post-impact stage
Categories by syndrome Main signs
Acute stress/anxiety Nervousness, shivering, distress, fear, affliction, re-living the trauma, restlessness, insomnia, eating disorders, fear it will happen again.

Post-traumatic stress disorder Persistent fearful thoughts and memories of the trauma that make the individual feel emotionally blocked; anxiety, insomnia, recurring dreams, irritability, poor concentration, avoidance, isolation.
Depression Sadness, crying, low self-respect, losing the meaning of life, sleep disorders, insomnia, loss of appetite.
Suicidal behaviour Low desire for survival, a plan to commit suicide, failed suicide attempt, depression.
Psychosis Hallucinations, delusions, strange conduct or abnormal behaviour showing a disconnection from reality that could be accompanied by restlessness and violence.
Undue consumption of psychoactive substances Onset or increase of alcohol/drug consumption as a consequence of the event.
Epilepsy and organic disorders Convulsions or mental confusion disorders/disorientation (the individual is temporarily unaware of where he is, who he is, what happened etc.); infection, intoxication, cranio-encephalic trauma etc.
Emotional and behavioural disturbance in children Bedwetting, bowel incontinence, isolation, fear, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, behaviour changes, sleep/eating disorders, regressive behaviour (acting as if younger), learning difficulties.
Non-pathological emotional manifestations Nervousness, tension, sadness, worry, affliction, fear, disorganised thinking, somatic symptoms (stomach/head ache etc.), guilty feelings, irritability, persistent memories, frustration, sleep/eating disorders, behaviour changes, breaking up of relationships etc.

Violent behaviour Aggression, ill-treatment of family members, anger.
Illnesses where emotional factors perform an important role. Diabetes, hypertension, dermatitis, asthma etc.
This stage is characterised by great confusion; a situation of great change that stretches people’s ability to adapt and redefine their way of life. After the impact, most people face a struggle between their regular ways of behaving and new attitudes of solidarity and organisation, requiring strength to connect with reality and make an evaluation of the damage in order to support other people.

Common reactions to disasters
Most people involved in a traumatic incident experience some kind of emotional reaction. Although each person’s experience is different, there are a number of common responses that are experienced by the majority of those involved. It is reassuring to know that, even though these feelings can be very unpleasant, they are NORMAL reactions in a normal person to an ABNORMAL event. You are not losing your mind or going crazy if you have these feelings. It is often difficult for those who were not involved to understand what the survivor is going through; you may wish to show this pamphlet to friends and relatives, and perhaps discuss your reactions with them.

Outlined below are some of the normal reactions to trauma:
• Disbelief at what happened
• Feeling numb, as if things are unreal
• Of a recurrence
• For the safety of oneself or one’s family
• Apparently unrelated fears
• At who caused it or “allowed it to happen”
• At the injustice and senselessness of it all
• Generalised anger and irritability
• About the losses, both human and material
• About the loss of feelings of safety and security
• Feeling depressed for no reason
• For having appeared helpless or emotional
• For not behaving as you would have liked

• Difficulty in sleeping because of intrusive thoughts
• Restless and disturbed sleep
• Feeling tired and fatigued
Physical problems
• Easily startled by noises
• General agitation and muscle tension
• Palpitations, trembling or sweating
• Breathing difficulties
• Nausea, diarrhoea or constipation
• Many other physical signs and symptoms
• Frequent thoughts or images of the incident
• Thoughts or images of other frightening events
• Flashbacks or a feeling of ‘re-living’ the experience
• Attempts to shut out the painful memories
• Pictures of what happened jumping into your head
• Dreams and nightmares about what happened
• Unpleasant dreams of other frightening things
• Difficulty making simple decisions
• Inability to concentrate and memory problems
• Withdrawal from others and a need to be alone
• Easily irritated by other people
• Feelings of detachment from others
• Loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies
• Not wanting to go to work, poor motivation
• Poor concentration and attention
• Increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs
• Loss of appetite or increased eating
• Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

Remember that all responses are NORMAL to an ABNORMAL situation.
It will take time before you start to feel better
You may have strong feelings right away. Or you may not notice a change until much later, after the crisis is over. Stress can change how you act with your friends and family. It will take time for you to feel better and for your life to return to normal. Give yourself time to heal.

These steps may help you and those you serve, to feel better
A traumatic event disrupts your life. There is no simple fix to make things better right away. But there are actions that can help you, your family, and your community heal. Try to:
• follow a normal routine as much as possible
• eat healthy meals – be careful not to skip meals or to overeat
• exercise and stay active
• help other people in your community as a volunteer – stay busy
• accept help from family, friends, co-workers, or other people you trust – talk about your feelings with them
• limit your time around the sights and sounds of what happened – don’t dwell on TV, radio, or newspaper reports on the tragedy.
You may need further assistance or to advise others to get further help if:
• the problems described above are particularly severe, or if they continue for more than five or six weeks
• you feel numb or empty and do not have appropriate feelings; you may find yourself keeping busy all the time in order to avoid the unpleasant thoughts and feelings
• you have no friends or family to whom you can talk about the experience and how you feel
• you (or others) are using alcohol or drugs to help you cope
• you have any other concerns about the way you or your family are coping and you would like to discuss the matter.

Sometimes the stress can be too much to handle alone
Ask for help if:
• your emotions or physical symptoms are too intense or persistent
• you feel too numb, cut off or you have to keep active in order not to feel
• you continue to have nightmares, poor sleep or ‘flashbacks’
• your family, social or work relationships suffer
• you feel sad or depressed for more than two weeks
• your performance suffers at school, work or at home
• you (or others) use alcohol or drugs to get away from your problems
• you are not able to take care of yourself or your children
• you have accidents or illness
• you have no one to talk to about your experience
• you have lost faith in yourself or the world

Accessed at: http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/coping-with-stress-factsheet2. Adapted from information issued by www.samhsa.gov and Queensland Health: Fact Sheets for Psychosocial Disaster Management.

Psychosocial and spiritual support
The specific objective is to provide guidelines for psychosocial and spiritual support to help those affected by states of emergency to re-acquire a sense of security and control in their lives, to assimilate and integrate the event, and then to create a new life with a positive outlook and the experience of emotional and spiritual protection.


Support should be taken from the strengths of those affected by the disaster.
Aims should be logical and according to the real needs of those affected. Be clear about the goals that are expected to be achieved, and advance according to your spiritual understanding and the real needs of those affected.
Support is neither a recipe nor a treatment; it should be given, according to the community, by anyone having knowledge of emotional first aid. It can be enriched with spiritual advice related to the goal. These practices must respect the culture and beliefs of the community affected.

For those affected, below are goals, phases and strategies to support the psychological processes for the recovery of the inner self, in the order Phase 1 to Phase 4.
• In all phases, it is suggested that physical/muscular relaxation techniques are also used.

Below, we suggest a model that has been used successfully, that incorporates psychological care and wellbeing while giving due consideration to spiritual beliefs, practice and local understanding and culture.

Biopsychosocial, & Eco-Spiritual Model

By Dr. Ani Kalayjian
Professor of Psychology, Fordham University

The Mental Health Outreach Program developed by Ani Kalayjian utilizes this seven-step model, through which various aspects of dispute, conflict, or disagreements are assessed, identified, explored, processed, worked through, and reintegrated. The following are the seven- steps of the


Biopsychosocial, & Eco Spiritual Model:

I. Assess Levels of distress or disagreement:
Participants are given a written questionnaire (or other appropriate method), to define the kind of dispute they are working on, and elicit the impact of this dispute. They may rate it any whatever way suits them. A common way is to ask them to rate it from 1-10 (from no distress to extremely high distress).

II. Encourage Expression of Feelings:
Each participant is encouraged to express his/her feelings in the ‘here and now,’ in relationship to the dispute they have identified& expressed.
Do they share in the big group with strangers? In smaller groups with kin? How do you ensure cultural appropriateness for sharing feelings. Some will only share with their own gender, some within families, some in religious ceremonies, but sharing feelings ‘here and now’ is very aligned with American culture.
Open spaces are suggested for the expression of feelings and emotions experienced during and after the disaster.
After catharsis, focus on mind control connected with the present (not the past) in order to progress. In this phase, it is very important to support the group spiritually through:
• A steady and mature facilitator who is able to be responsive, warm and genuinely empathic.
• A calm peaceful atmosphere.
• Practice of silent and positive self-reflection every hour.
• It is helpful for souls to feel they have some control of their thoughts and feelings, and that their experiences are a normal reaction to an abnormal event.

Suggested methods of expression and control
Write, draw or musically express the experience during the disaster. On the back of the paper, write in one or two words what it felt like, and then verbalise it. There can be a ceremonial burning of the paper, or singing of the song to symbolise moving forward.
Write to God, a Higher Power or someone very special (according to the beliefs of the population), expressing freely ones feelings and thoughts, without judgement, both positive and negative.

III. Provide Empathy and Validation:

Each participant’s feelings will be validated by the group facilitatoror a group member. When disputes rupture individual’s link with the group, an intolerable sense of isolation and helplessness may occur. Providing validation and empathy in such a group will transform these negative effects by re-establishing the mutual exchange between the individual and the group.

IV. Encourage Discovery & Expression of Meaning:

Participants will be asked “What lessons, meaning or positive associations did you discover as a result of this dispute?” This question is based on Viktor Frankl’s logotherapeutic principles: That there could be a positive meaning discovered in the worst catastrophe. As well as the Buddhist assertions that it takes darkness to appreciate and reconnect with light. Again, participants will be invited to focus on the strengths and meanings that naturally arise out of any dispute or conflict.
Phase 2 – Understanding yourself (*)
Encourage the participants to reflect on their spiritual identity (however they understand that). Lead them in a meaningful reflection exercise that supports their faith. Encourage moments of silence and guided meditations if appropriate. Find out what the participants would like to meditate on and provide an appropriate commentary.
Practice ‘compassionate vision’. As they look, through their eyes, at the environment around them, get them to visualize donating vibrations of peace, hope, love and compassion to the environment around them.

V. Provide Didactic Information:

Practical tools and information are shared on how to gradually integrate the information provided, care for oneself as a caregiver/mediator. Share information about forgiveness and how to transform the dispute/ trauma, how to accept things that one cannot change and how to focus on accountability and responsibility.

Phase 3 – Cognitive development (*)

To promote rational understanding of the event: how and why it happened (its origin, effects, outcomes etc). Understand realities of food, water, housing and information about what they can do and what they can expect in the immediate future.
Give a logical and simple explanation of how the disaster occurred (make alliances with support networks and invite a local contact.
Explain types of thoughts and the effects of thoughts on the self and the environment.
Create a song, sketch or performance that shows how to prepare for future crises.
Create a model
Depending on the location, with recycled material, make a model of the city in good condition, then create the occurrence of the disaster (e.g. move the model for an earthquake, pour water for a tsunami, add mud/dust for a volcano) and finally rebuild it.
Discuss alternative or possible solutions. Recall past experiences for which solutions were found. What was the process? What was accomplished?

VI. Eco Centered Caring: Practical tools are shared to connect with Gaia, Mother Nature and ways to care for one’s environment. Emphasis is placed on starting to care for one’s environment and expanding to the larger globe, being mindful of system’s perspective and how we can impact our environment, and how the environment impacts us. There is no peace within, without first creating peace with our environment.

Provide Breathing and Movement Exercises: Breath is used as a natural medicine and a healing tool for empowerment as well as for relaxation and distancing from the grips of the dispute. Since no one can control others and what happens outside of one’s self, participants are assisted in being mindful of how they can respond to the dispute instead of reacting to it. Participants are instructed on how to use breath towards self-empowerment as well as to engender gratitude, compassion, faith, strength, and forgiveness in response to disputes.
Phase 4 – Projecting the future (*)
Stimulate the creation of a broad and unlimited vision, e.g.
• Create an ideal vision of themselves as a complete and contented being.
• Create personal future plans.

Create spaces to support the community.

Welcome the process of adaptability and reconstruction based on concrete actions.
Creative activities

Make a collage (magazines, papers, colours etc) of the world they would like to live in. Make a personal commitment to contribute to creating this ideal world.
Dr. Kalayjian is a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress, the President of the Association For Trauma Outreach & Prevention, Board Member of the UN NGO Human Rights Committee, Chair of Mentoring Committee of the American Psychological Association’s International Division, author of Disaster & Mass Trauma, Chief Editor of Forgiveness: Pathways for conflict Transformation and Peace Building, and Chief Editor of II volume on Disaster & Mass Trauma. For more information you may contact the author: Dr. Kalayjian at E-mail: DrKalayjian@gmail.com, www.meaningfulworld.com.

For Brahmins to maintain mental, emotional and physical health
Some tips that may be helpful for your own mental, emotional and physical health. Verify in advance that the proposed activities are appropriate and relevant to the local culture.

What to do
• Take one day at a time. Time is essential and each day is an opportunity to move towards recovery.
• Try to keep a diary. Write down thoughts and feelings that are going round in your head. It is only for your eyes; nothing you have to share with others.
• Combine exercise with relaxation and rest, this will soften some of the physical reactions. Remember to eat and drink regularly, even if you do not feel like it.
• You need privacy to relax, sleep and sit in silence with your own thoughts and emotions.
• Continue with your routine and take care of your daily activities as soon as you’re ready.
• Concentrate and do the things most important to you and the family today.
• Learn and understand what you are experiencing, remember what is important and ignore what is not. Try not to worry about what you cannot change.
• Do things that provide you comfort and a sense of control. Beware of over-activity that might be detrimental to you, because it blocks the emotions. Make decisions in your daily life, such as when and where to eat. They will give you a sense of control.
• Face reality. Doing so will help you to accept the event, e.g. see the corpse, go to the funeral, return to the scene, visit the sick or injured.
• Talk about your experiences and how you feel about them. It will help you listen to others affected. Talking is the most healing medicine. Do not let a loved one carry a heavy burden.
• Share with others. Create a meditation group.
• You must be aware that each person expresses things his own way. People go through phases of a crisis at different rates.
• After severe stress, accidents and diseases are more common, therefore:
• Walk and/or drive more carefully.
• Follow recommended safety practices.
• Watch your diet and physical health, maintain physical and recreational activities.

What not to do
 Perform any major change in your life.
 See yourself as abnormal. Remember that you are experiencing normal reactions to an abnormal experience.
 Suppress thoughts and emotions.
 Take coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, which could prolong the process of dealing with the event and the hurt.
 Fight recurrent thoughts, dreams or flashbacks of the traumatic episode to keep them away. They decrease with time. Share them with someone and they will lose their power.
 Avoid talking about what happened.
 Vent your frustrations with your family, spouses and children. Control your bad temper and vent your frustrations in a way that does not injure anyone.


For helping adults

Here are some tips you can share with family, friends, community stakeholders and affected families. Verify in advance that the proposed activities are appropriate and relevant to the local culture.
• Respect differences. Do not criticize or refute a belief. The disaster cannot be used to change the religious practices of the affected community.
• Be available. Show that you are willing to support and participate. Do not try to console using phrases such as ‘okay’, ‘not so bad’ or ‘could be worse’. These phrases may sound patronising. Do not talk too much about your own experiences. Help people to express their feelings.
• Listen carefully. Listen, accept and confirm their sentiments. Participate without comment or challenging what is said. Listen more than talk.
• Drishti/ spiritual acceptance. When there is no more to say, stay in loving silence.
• Accept their feelings. People may feel bad, allow them to feel bad.
• Do not be afraid of feelings and emotions. Feelings may be expressed with tears, anger and laughter. If repressed, they will return later, sometimes years later.
• Words can help. Ask carefully what happened or how you felt. One way to get rid of the pain is through words. This is also a good way to start the process of addressing the situation.
• Be yourself. Do not try to represent anything else.
• Daily routine. Ensure that the affected person resumes their daily routine, not to block feelings, but to make the body work. Exercise, related to the daily activities of the person, is useful in itself.
• Be honest. Do not hide the reality from people, they have to face it sooner or later. It is important for people to express their feelings, but do not let them insist on blaming others. Help them to focus on the current situation.
• Convey an optimistic approach. Try to be positive. Show that you know that the situation will improve.
• Admit your own limits. Sometimes taking a break will be healthy for you and those around you. You cannot hold everything together. Some things can touch us very deeply.

For giving emotional support to children

For children, who have been victims of a disaster, the process of emotional recovery requires a great deal of sensitivity and patience. Expect insecurity, fear and afflictions, which will fade slowly over time.
Do not separate girls and boys from their parents: mothers, fathers and the families are natural nests of protection and security for children. Separation anxiety is one of the most common psychological reactions in emergency situations, especially in the case of young boys and girls. Mothers and fathers must be involved in activities with their children, especially the younger ones.
Children’s emotional responses are directly related to the reactions of the adults who are important to them.
 Treat them with love; expressions of affection strengthen security in girls and boys.
 Try to explain what happened in terms they can understand (verbally, graphically), and let them know that you know and understand how they feel.
 It is likely that your child will want to spend more time with you. When you have to leave them, prepare them long in advance, explaining to them where you are going and when you will return. Be sure to leave them with someone that you and your child knows and trusts.
 Do not be alarmed by changes in your child’s behaviour, which are normal after a disaster. But if the behaviour lasts a long time, or the child has many problems, or is very sad and quiet, seek psychological help.
 It is very important to try to normalise family life as soon as possible, with school or daycare, making it is as similar as possible to how it was before the disaster.
 Physical contact is important, embracing them when required, e.g. as a greeting or farewell.
 Tell them often that they are safe and secure, and talk to them about what happened in a simple manner. Allow them to talk about what happened too.
 Allow them to play about the disaster.
 Do not minimise (stop talking about) or exaggerate the disaster.
 Avoid talking to children about adults’ fears for the future.
 Promise only what can be achieved.
 Talk about death with them, as a natural process of life.
 Give children age-appropriate tasks, e.g. help to organise their space and keep it clean and orderly according to their ability.

Provide them with security and confidence:
 Children feel safe in places they know. Find a comfortable place where the child can feel safe, this builds trust and facilitates communication.
 Explain safety measures repeatedly, from whom they can receive help and from whom they can’t, and talk of the security that God can provide them.
 Security depends on information and knowledge, how it happened and where helpful people are.

Restore the everyday as soon as possible:
 Disaster affects daily routines. This creates instability and affects recovery, adaptation, learning and interaction with the environment. Therefore, you must return to the familiar routines, social and personal, of the child through everyday activities and games.
 Counteract rumour, confusion and panic among children.

Activities for children:
• Should suit the degree of development of the children.
• Must facilitate the spontaneous expression of feelings and thoughts of the children, through play and art, e.g. free drawing with crayons or pencils, moulding with plasticine or clay.
• Must encourage the active involvement of mothers and fathers in this recovery process.

Authored by: Marianne, Noni Allen and Tamasin Ramsay
Edited by: Lynn Henshall, Sona Bahri and Tamasin Ramsay

more: Brahma Kumaris Disaster Resource Centre