Resilience-based Reflections for Disaster Recovery

Posted by Gretchen Miller on September 5, 2017 in Barb Desjardins, Barb Dorrington, Hurricane, natural disaster, resilience category
 The first TLC Conference I attended in 2006 included a presentation about recovery work with survivors of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The presenters, Barb Dorrington and Barb Desjardins, shared their personal experiences related to trauma intervention at shelters with evacuees in Texas and in extremely devastated New Orleans parishes. Much of the content shared that morning were lessons they both learned from the needs and stories of survivors and the tremendous impact these natural disasters had on implementing trauma informed help in these settings.
Texas and Louisiana once again have been faced with the dire aftermath of a new natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey recently left a destructive path of damage, flooding, and vast loss in its wake. My heart goes out to survivors, their families, and responders in affected areas. The brunt of a natural disaster is not just a single event, but is ongoing. Recovery is long term, with often many, many months and years of hard work ahead. This lasting exposure, disruption, and traumatic stress can take an immense toll on survivors’ overall health and well-being (American Psychological Association, 2011).
Below are some resilience-based considerations and disaster related resources to keep in mind for long-term intervention:
  • Survivors of trauma can benefit from experiences that offer a sense of control and empowerment. Managing traumatic stress after a hurricane, published by the American Psychological Association (APA), offers suggestions that help hurricane survivors re-establish a sense of structure, routine, and direction.
  • Reinforce survival strategies and adaptive coping skills. It is important to be mindful of a trauma survivor’s risks to re-traumatization. Re-traumatization exposes a previous wound of trauma, often triggered by a current or anticipated situation of distress. When faced with situations that could activate re-traumatization, survivors need support and attention to help identify, build, or remember healthy coping tools and their inner strengths to better manage adversity (Ochberg, 2005).
  • Help promote victim to survivor thinking. This shift in thinking helps survivors move to feeling more empowered with an increased sense of control and become an active participant in their own recovery process. These resources from TLC offer more information on victim thinking vs. survivor thinking. As survivor thinking strengthens, an orientation to the future, taking care of ones well-being, and a commitment to continued personal growth transitions to thriver thinking that begins to rise above and beyond the trauma that the individual has experienced.
  • Use resources to help talk to youth about emergencies and staying safe. There are several toolkits and guides that have been created to use with children about emergency preparedness and disaster response.
  • Disaster Safety for Children - The American Red Cross
  • Recovery: After a Hurricane - The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
  • Parent Guidelines for Helping Children After a Hurricane - The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

The impact of trauma and natural disasters can also leave individuals who have not directly experienced the event feeling overwhelmed and distressed. The APA has also published these suggestions for managing hurricane-related stress from a distance. Taking time for self-care, monitoring your news and social media intake, and finding beneficial ways to help can offer opportunities to regain a sense of control and decrease feelings of helplessness.

And lastly, for health and mental health professionals interested in volunteering to help survivors impacted by Hurricane Harvey, The American Red Cross has set up this page. Helping the American Red Cross’ general efforts and other important guidelines for the public to keep in mind for helping evacuees and affected communities during this time are also available.



American Psychological Association. (2011). Managing traumatic stress: After a hurricane. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2011). Managing traumatic stress: Dealing with hurricanes from afar. Retrieved from

Dorrington, B., & Desjardins, B. (2006). Recovery and Survival Work with Hurricane Evacuees. 2006 The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children Conference Presentation.

National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. (2013). Survivor thinking. Retrieved from

National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. (2013). Victim thinking. Retrieved from

Ochberg, F. (2005). Hurricane opens trauma wounds. Retrieved from

The American Red Cross. (2017). Hurricane Harvey: Health and Mental Health Volunteers Needed. Retrieved from

The American Red Cross. (2017). Disaster safety for children. Retrieved from

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2017). Recovery: After a hurricane. Retrieved from

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2017). Parent guidelines for helping children after a hurricane. Retrieved from

About Gretchen Miller

Gretchen M. Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP is a Cleveland, Ohio based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist and TLC Advanced Certified Trauma Practitioner. Over the course of her career Gretchen has provided art therapy to children, adolescents, families, and adults in shelters, residential treatment, mental health programs, outreach services, and more. Gretchen is also an adjunct faculty member for the Counseling & Art Therapy Graduate Program at Ursuline College, as well as teaches and presents regionally and nationally on the application of art therapy and trauma intervention. 

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