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Heidi Schreiber-Pan, Kari A. O'Grady, Ph.D., Deborah G. Rollison, Ph.D.

Finding Hope in Haiti: A Phenomenological Exploration of Meaning-making and Identity after the Earthquake

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The devastating earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010 killed over 230,000 people and injured many more. Even today, almost half a million people are still living in tents. While relief efforts necessarily focused on the immediate injuries and physical needs of survivors, almost no attention was paid to their psychological health and wellbeing, especially in the wake of trauma. How were people coping six months after the “thawing-out” stage?

Although traumatic life events may produce deleterious health outcomes for some individuals and devastating consequences for communities, research indicates that post traumatic growth is possible when appropriate factors are in place (Richards, Smith., Berrett , O’Grady, & Bartz, 2009; Sigmund, 2003; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004). A growing body of research reveals that many traumatic life events, including natural disasters, precipitate positive psychological changes, including a broadened view of life, increased sense of meaning and purpose for existence, and increased spirituality (Sigmund, 2003). Traumatic life events have been positively correlated with improved social relationships, positive changes in beliefs, renewed faith, cohesiveness in the community, identification of new possibilities, and newfound talents and strengths. Appropriately addressing the consequences of trauma is predictive of whether the trauma will encourage growth or decline (Bradfield, Wylie, Echterling, 1989; Cole, Hopkins, Tisak, Steel, & Carr, 2007; Feder et al., 2008; Laufer, Raz-hamama, Levine, Solomon, 2009; Sigmund, 2003).

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