Problem solving in the aftermath of disaster - transcript

Hello everyone my name’s Leanne Humphreys and today we’re speaking with Belinda Pacella. Belinda is a research assistant with us here at Phoenix Australia and has a particular interest in early interventions following trauma and today’s conversation relates to the issue of problem solving and in particular, Belinda will be talking with us about the use of guided or structured problem solving as we work with individuals who are recovering from the impacts of disaster.

So hello Belinda, thanks for joining me.

Belinda: Hi Leanne, thanks for having me.

Leanne: Pleasure. Belinda, we know that disasters can often impact a person’s life well after the disaster event itself has occurred and there’s a range of challenges that individuals have to face sometimes for months and years afterwards. So what are some of the most common difficulties people encounter?

Belinda: Yes, that’s right Leanne, so there are a range of difficulties and challenges that people can be faced with after a disaster in both the sort of short term and the long term as well. But I suppose that the most common difficulties would include things like financial problems. So reductions in income, loss of employment, also things like loss of savings or emergency money due to things like property repairs or rebuilding costs.

Another common difficulty would be dealing with sort of insurance compensation claims. So for some people who haven’t had prior experience with insurance companies or making claims there can often be a lack of knowledge or an understanding of the application process and that can be quite overwhelming. And also just sort of a lack of guidance or advice when making claims. And once a claim has been submitted disputes can sometimes arise with the claims as well so that claims can often be processed, not processed sorry, delayed or sometimes denied.

So that can be quite stressful as well, and then I suppose another common difficulty would be some difficulties within families, a relationship, so this can include things like a breakdown in relationships, reduced social support from family members or partners or separation from family and friends for quite an extended period.

So as you can imagine it can be quite overwhelming and stressful to manage these ongoing problems and many people can find it hard to kind of step back and think about what the best options or solutions are for them in the moment. This could obviously be ‘yeah experience is quite stressful and quite overwhelming’.

Leanne: And so I guess that speaks to the issue of supporting people with a structured or systematic approach to problem solving. So can you speak a little bit about what problem solving actually is and and how it can be used to help people manage all of those difficulties that you’ve just mentioned?

Belinda: Yes, so problem solving is quite a useful tool that involves kind of going through a series of steps to help break down a problem that seemed really overwhelming and really large into  manageable chunks. So if you can pick and focus on one problem at a time and you kind of thoughtfully weigh up and choose an action that you think is best to tackle the problem.

The problem solving itself is a tool that can be used as a stand alone kind of targeted intervention. It’s often embedded in cognitive behavioural therapy as part of a more comprehensive treatment approach, but it’s definitely useful as well as a stand alone treatment and an important thing to note too is that it’s a skill that once you learn it you can use it throughout your life. It’s not just the disaster related problems, it can be applied to many things.

Leanne: Yes, good point, good point. So Belinda is problem solving something that everyone should learn about following a disaster?

Belinda: Yes, and so we know that you know, following large-scale potentially traumatic events like disasters, you know the majority of people are quite resilient and they’re able to bounce back in the weeks or months following a disaster but for some people you know they can experience considerable adjustment difficulties and these difficulties are often linked to those kind of common problems that we discussed earlier and that can remain persistent or unresolved over time. And these problems can really play a key role in maintaining or worsening a person’s mental health as time goes on.

So problem solving is sort of a great skill that probably everyone should have but for these people in particular these people who are kind of expressing that they’re feeling really overwhelmed by a number of problems in their life, they’re feeling helpless or hopeless, and they kind of feel like they lack control or agency over a problem, that can be a really great skill for them to learn, and you can kind of equip them with the tools to manage these current problems, but also think about how to manage anticipated problems that they may face in the future.

Leanne: Great, okay, and so what does it specifically involve? Yes, so it broadly consists of kind of five steps that practitioners and their patients will work through in a kind of collaborative and systematic manner and I’ll just briefly speak to the five steps now.

But the first is to kind of define the problem. Get really clear about what problems the person wants to work on, and next is to kind of brainstorm all possible solutions. So getting really creative with the person that you’re working with and getting them to come up with as many ideas, solutions, as possible that they can think of and then kind of going through each solution that the person’s come up with and kind of, you know, evaluating the pros and cons and weighing up the cost and benefits. And this kind of process can help the person choose the best solution or the best idea that they’ve come up with. And once that solution has been picked, it’s kind of a process of going through specific steps and setting specific goals about how to how to reach that specific solution or that plan over time.

Leanne: Okay, okay, terrific. So it sounds to me like the practitioner is supporting the individual in a process rather than actually giving them directions or solutions themselves. It sounds like that’s it’s an important part of that. Can you speak to that for me?

Belinda: Yes, and I think that’s a really great point that you pick up on Leanne, because I think with this, this problem-solving tool we’ve got sort of practitioners are really encouraged to to really cultivate a sense of curiosity and collaboration when working with the individual that we work that they’re working with, and really just act as a guide, for, a guide for the individual to work through this problem and come up with all the solutions that they probably can and really guide them through this process so that the practitioner themselves may have ideas about how they would solve the problem. But, we’re really encouraging practitioners to guide and support the person that they’re working with to foster their sense of self-efficacy and their ability to manage the problem on their own.

Leanne: Yes, terrific. So Belinda you’ve developed a really good worksheet that practitioners can use with disaster impacted individuals to help guide them through that process, and you know roughly  to  minutes depending on the problem. So thank you very much for that introduction. Belinda this conversation is obviously just a brief summary of the relevant points. So for those of you who are watching here and who’d like to explore the topic further feel free to read through the module and follow the links provided and you’ll find that worksheet that has been developed for you.

Thanks for your time Belinda.