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Dr. Joshua Miller, Smith College - The Psychological Response to Disaster


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Joshua Miller of Smith College explores the psychological landscape individuals must navigate in the wake of disasters.

Joshua Miller is a professor of social welfare policy at Smith College. His teaching and research interests include anti-racism work, the social ecology of disaster, and mental health approaches in response to disasters. He is chair of the School for Social Work's social policy sequence and has co-taught the school's foundation anti-racism course as well as a course on mental health responses to disasters.

About Dr. Miller

Dr. Joshua Miller - The Psychological Response to Disaster

As we mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is a good time to reflect on human resiliency in the face of disaster. What I have found in my work responding to disasters across the globe is that disasters can bring out the worst in people and the best in people. By worst, I mean the exacerbation of social divisions - such as those caused by racism - as we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

And yet, the majority of people who experience disaster pull together with others, and recover socially and psychologically How are people able to muster such resiliency?

When I was in Haiti after the earthquake I worked with a man who lost his fianc e and all of his hopes for the future. He experienced terrible guilt, remorse, and many symptoms of trauma. He felt that his life was not worth living. But through altruism, using his experience to help others recover from the disaster, he became a leader in his community and this continues to this day. He believes in himself, has a role in his community where he feels valued and gains a sense of oneness with others through his unselfish deeds.

His story exemplifies what I and other practitioners and researchers have found - that social cohesion, connections with others, drawing on one's cultural and spiritual practices and the ability to achieve a sense of efficacy, hope and even transcendent meaning all contribute to resiliency. To quote a placard that I found in the destroyed city of Hanwang in Sichuan Province China after an earthquake: "ruins generate hope."

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