Disasters and Mental Health: Therapeutic Principles Drawn From Disaster Studies

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Disaster Research Center
Why do large-scale disasters produce such mentally healthy conditions? What therapeutic principles can we derive from a study of the natural human adjustments that develop among disaster survivors? Those are the central questions addressed in the paper that follows-a paper whose content is exactly as it was written in 1961. Those questions appeared rather strange to readers at that time, especially among people who had never personally experienced a large-scale disaster or who had not conducted considerable field research in actual community or societal disasters. Even today, many people are likely to reject these questions as incredible because they believe that the deaths, injuries, physical destruction, and personal deprivations caused by disasters must inevitably produce pathological personal and social consequences. Because my emphasis in this paper focuses attention on the positive, beneficent, and therapeutic personal and social effects of disaster, it may be helpful to trace the history by which I arrived at this contrary perspective. The development of these ideas gradually emerged from personal and researched experiences covering a period of about 18 years – from 1943 to 1961. The specific events and experiences cover five different periods:
mental health, therapeutic principles, human behavior