Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 237–248 | Cite as

Mother–Child Relationships Following a Disaster: The Experiences of Turkish Mothers Living in a Container City After the 2011 Van Earthquake

  • Cigdem Yumbul
  • Elizabeth WielingEmail author
  • Hilal Celik
Original Paper


In this qualitative study, informed by ethnography and phenomenology, we aimed to explore the impact of mass trauma on mother–child relationships. Specifically, affected relational processes that might interrupt healthy parenting practices and child behavioral and emotional outcomes were explored. Fifteen Turkish mothers exposed to a massive earthquake in 2011 and relocated to a container city in the Van province, Turkey, were interviewed for this study in 2013. Data analysis was informed by elements of Spradley’s Developmental Research Sequence (DRS) and interpretive phenomenological analysis. Findings indicated that psychological trauma resulting from the earthquake and consequent displacement disrupted and exacerbated mothers’ ability to cope with distress. This, in turn, influenced mothers’ ability to manage their negative emotions and resulted in more yelling, beatings, and higher aggression towards their children as well as a lack of positive emotional and physical engagement. Mothers perceived their own struggles as increasing their children’s disruptive behaviors, such as being less compliant, becoming emotionally distant and modeling mothers’ negative behaviors. The counseling mothers received at the local mental health center supported mothers in building greater physical and emotional connection with their children, regulating their negative emotions and gaining effective parenting skills to discipline their children. The current study represents a preliminary step towards understanding parenting experiences of Turkish mothers in mass trauma contexts.


Child outcomes Disaster Family Parenting Psychological trauma 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest pertaining to this submission to the Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy.


  1. About Van earthquake. (2012). Retrieved from
  2. Aisenberg, E., & Ell, K. (2005). Contextualizing community violence and its effects: An ecological model of parent-child interdependent coping. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20(7), 855–871. doi: 10.1177/0886260505276833.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Altindag, A., & Ozen, S. (2005). One-year follow-up study of posttraumatic stress disorder among earthquake survivors in Turkey. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 46(5), 328–333. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2005.01.005.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Ballard, J., Wieling, E., & Forgatch, M. (2017). Feasibility of implementation of a parenting intervention with Karen refugees resettled from Burma. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.Google Scholar
  5. Basoglu, M., Salcioglu, E., & Livanoglu, M. (2002). Traumatic stress responses in earthquake survivors in Turkey. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15, 269–276. doi: 10.1023/A:1016241826589.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Black, D. A., Heyman, R. E., & Smith Slep, A. M. (2001). Risk factors for child physical abuse. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 6, 121–188. doi: 10.1016/s1359-1789(00)00021-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Catani, C., Jacob, N., Schauer, E., Kohila, M., & Neuner, F. (2008). Family violence, war, and natural disaster: A study of the effect of extreme stress on children’s mental health in Sri Lanka. BMC Psychiatry, 8(33), 1–10. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-8-33.Google Scholar
  9. Catani, C., Schauer, E., & Neuner, F. (2008). Beyond individual war trauma: Domestic violence against children in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34(2), 165–176. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2008.00062.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Creswell, J. W. (2007). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Forgatch, M. S., & Knutson, N. M. (2002). Linking basic and applied research in a prevention science process. In H. Liddle, G. Diamond, R. Levant & J. Bray (Eds.), Family psychology: Science-based interventions (pp. 239–257). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gewirtz, A., Forgatch, M., & Wieling, E. (2008). Parenting practices as potential mechanisms for child adjustment following mass trauma. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34(2), 177–192. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2008.00063.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gewirtz, A. H., Polusny, M. A., DeGarmo, D. S., Khaylis, A., & Erbes, C. R. (2010). Posttraumatic stress symptoms among National Guard soldiers deployed to Iraq: Associations with parenting behaviors and couple adjustment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(5), 599–610. doi: 10.1037/a0020571.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Guba, E. G. (1981). Criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of naturalistic inquiries. Educational Communication and Technology Journal, 29, 75–91. doi:  10.1007/BF02766777.Google Scholar
  15. Haj-Yahia, M. M., & Abdo-Kaloti, R. (2003). The rates and correlates of the exposure of Palestinian adolescents to family violence: Toward an integrative-holistic approach. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27(7), 781–806. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(03)00119-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kelley, M. L., Self-Brown, S., Le, B., Bosson, J. V., Hernandez, B. C., & Gordon, A. T. (2010). Predicting posttraumatic stress symptoms in children following Hurricane Katrina: A prospective analysis of the effect of parental distress and parenting practices. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23(5), 582–590. doi: 10.1002/jts.20573.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Kilic, C., & Ulusoy, M. (2003). Psychological effects of the November 1999 earthquake in Turkey: an epidemiological study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 108(3), 232–238. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0447.2003.00119.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Kilic, E. Z., Ozguven, H. D., & Sayil, I. (2003). The psychological effects of parental mental health on children experiencing disaster: The experience of Bolu earthquake in Turkey. Family Process, 42(4), 485–495. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2003.00485.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Landau, J., Mittal, M., & Wieling, E. (2008). Linking human systems: Strengthening individuals, families, and communities in the wake of mass trauma. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34(2), 193–209. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2008.00064.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Mogil, C., Hajal, N., Garcia, E., Kiff, C., Paley, B., Milburn, N., & Lester, P. (2015). FOCUS for early childhood: A virtual home visiting program for military families with young children. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 37(3), 199–208. doi: 10.1007/s10591-015-9327-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Montgomery, E. (2004). Tortured families: A coordinated management of meaning analyses. Family Process, 43(3), 349–371. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2004.00027.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Nickerson, A., Bryant, R. A., Brooks, R., Steel, Z., Silove, D., & Chen, J. (2011). The familial influence of loss and trauma on refugee mental health: A multilevel path analysis. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 24(1), 25–33. doi: 10.1002/jts.20608.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Olema, D. K., Catani, C., Ertl, V., Saile, R., & Neuner, F. (2014). The hidden effects of child-maltreatment in a war-region: Predictors of psychopathology in two generations living in Northern Uganda. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 27(1), 35–41. doi: 10.1002/jts.21892.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia.Google Scholar
  25. Patterson, G. R., Forgatch, M. S., & DeGarmo, D. S. (2010). Cascading effects following intervention. Development & Psychopathology, 22, 949–970. doi: 10.1017/S0954579410000568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Saile, R., Ertl, V., Neuner, F., & Catani, C. (2014). Does war contribute to family violence against children? Findings from a two-generational multi-informant study in Northern Uganda. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38(1), 135–146. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.10.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Saul, J. (2014). Collective trauma, collective healing: Promoting community resilience in the aftermath of disaster. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Scheeringa, M. S., & Zeanah, C. H. (2001). A relational perspective on PTSD in early childhood. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14(4), 799–815. doi: 10.1023/a:1013002507972.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shamai, M. (2002). Parents’ perceptions of their children in a context of shared political uncertainty: The case of Jewish settlers in the West Bank before and after the Oslo peace agreement. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 19(1), 57–75. doi: 10.1023/a:1014055423279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols and procedures. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  31. Slone, M., & Mann, S. (2016). Effects of war, terrorism and armed conflict on young children: A systematic review. Child Psychiatry And Human Development. doi: 10.1007/s10578-016-0626-7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretive phenomenological analysis: Theory, method, and research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Song, S. J., Tol, W., & Jong, J. (2014). Indero: Intergenerational trauma and resilience between Burundian former child soldiers and their children. Family Process, 53(2), 239–251. doi:  10.1111/famp.12071.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Spradley, J. (1979). The ethnographic interview. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  35. Sriskandarajah, V., Neuner, F., & Catani, C. (2015). Predictors of violence against children in Tamil families in Northern Sri Lanka. Social Science and Medicine, 146, 257–265. doi:  10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.10.010.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Sriskandarajah, V., Neuner, F., & Catani, C. (2015). Parental care protects traumatized SriLankan children from internalizing behavior problems. BMC Psychiatry, 15(1), 203. doi:  10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.10.010.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  37. Sumer, N., Karanci, A. N., Berument, S. K., & Gunes, H. (2005). Personal resources, coping self-efficacy, and quake exposure as predictors of psychological distress following the 1999 earthquake in Turkey. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18(4), 331–342. doi: 10.1002/jts.20032.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Turkish Statistical Institute (2015). Istatistiklerle kadin. Retrieved from
  39. Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: Strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46(2), 207–227. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2007.00205.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Weine, S., Muzurovic, N., Kulauzovic, Y., Besic, S., Lezic, A., Mujagic, A., Muzurovic, J., Spahovic, D., Feetham, S., Ware, N., Knafl, K., & Pavkovic, I. (2004). Family consequences of refugee trauma. Family Process, 43(3), 147–160. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2004.04302002.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Wickrama, K. A. S., & Kaspar, V. (2007). Family context of mental health risk in tsunami- exposed adolescents: Findings from a pilot study in Sri Lanka. Social Science and Medicine, 64(3), 713–723. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Wieling, E., Mehus, C., Mollerherm, J., Neuner, F., Achan, L., & Catani, C. (2015a). Assessing the feasibility of providing a parenting intervention for war-affected families in Northern Uganda. Family and Community Health, 38, 253–268. doi:  10.1097/FCH.000000000064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wieling, E., Mehus, C., Möllerherm, J., Neuner, F., Achan, L., & Catani, C. (2015b). Assessing the feasibility of providing a parenting intervention for war-affected families in Northern Uganda. Family and Community Health, 38(3), 253–268. doi: 10.1097/FCH.0000000000000064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wieling, E., Mehus, C., Yumbul, C., Möllerherm, J., Ertl, V., Laura, A., Forgatch, M., Neuner, F., & Catani, C. (2015a). Preparing the field for feasibility testing of a parenting intervention for war-affected mothers in Northern Uganda. Family Process. doi: 10.1111/famp.12189.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Wieling, E., Mehus, C., Yumbul, C., Möllerherm, J., Ertl, V., Laura, A., Forgatch, M., Neuner, F., & Catani, C. (2015b). Preparing the field for feasibility testing of a parenting intervention for war-affected mothers in Northern Uganda. Family Process. doi: 10.1111/famp.12189. Advance online publication.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Witting, A. B., Jensen, J., & Brown, M. (2016). Evaluating the utility of MFT models in the treatment of trauma: Implications for affect regulation. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(3), 262–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Family and Social Science, Couple and Family Therapy SpecializationUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational Sciences, Psychological Counseling and Guidance, Ataturk Education FacultyMarmara UniversityKadikoy – IstanbulTurkey

Personalised recommendations