New techniques assist psychological recovery for disaster survivors

Survivors of disaster are far more psychologically resilient than previously thought and can be given skills to aid their psychological recovery, according to psychologist Professor Richard Bryant, who is presenting the 2010 Australian Psychological Society Oration tomorrow evening in Sydney.

Trauma expert Professor Bryant, who has contributed his expertise in the aftermath of 9/11, the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, will be presenting on the psychological cost of disasters.

He said experts now understood that most disaster survivors didn't need formal psychological intervention but could be assisted to recover by being provided with the right support and by being taught certain skills.

‘After Hurricane Katrina, we learned that over the long term people need psychosocial support to recover,' Professor Bryant says. ‘This means their social, emotional and spiritual needs should be addressed as well as their practical needs.

'Only 10 to twenty per cent of people will develop a diagnosable mental health disorder after a disaster and they will require professional mental health assistance. The remainder may suffer varying degrees of distress which is transient and there are techniques to help people.'

He said experience from recent disasters, such as the Victorian Black Saturday Fires, had shown that teaching people skills, known as ‘Skills for Psychological Recovery', could help them recover more rapidly and cope with the emotional and psychological after-effects which were the legacy of surviving a disaster.

He said disaster experts now recommended teaching people problem solving skills to regain a sense of control and mastery over their lives, ensuring people had healthy connections to others, that they undertook positive activities to get some enjoyment back in their lives, that they learned techniques to calm themselves down and strategies to limit negative thought patterns.

‘Unfortunately, we have experienced many disasters in recent years; however, we have honed our knowledge and understanding of the psychological effects and what aids psychological recovery from disaster so we are better able to assist people who have often been through the worst experience of their lives,' Professor Bryant said. ‘As we enter another fire season, it is appropriate that we are prepared to assist survivors of a disaster to manage the expected reactions.'

Full details about Skills for Psychological Recovery and how the community can prepare, respond and recover from disasters are available at - a new web resource being launched tomorrow evening at the oration.


Professor Richard Bryant is available for interview today and tomorrow prior to the Oration.

For more information, or to organise an interview, please contact: Karen Coghlan or Judith Heywood on 0435 896 444.

Professor Richard Bryant, FAPS (Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society)

Professor Richard Bryant will present the oration. Richard Bryant, PhD is a Scientia Professor in the School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, an ARC Laureate Fellow, and Director of the Traumatic Stress Unit, Westmead Hospital. His research has focused on psychological responses to trauma. He has identified some of the key biological and cognitive markers of risk for PTSD, developed screening tools for identifying people who are high risk for PTSD, and conducted some of the major early interventions trials for PTSD. He has published over 300 journal articles and book chapters on posttraumatic stress. He serves as a consultant to many international civilian and military agencies on managing trauma reactions. His first hand disaster experience includes contributing expertise in the aftermath of 9/11, the Boxing Day Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Black Saturday fires in Victoria.

The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing nearly 19,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.