Families and Disasters: Making Meaning out of Adversity

  • M.E. Betsy Garrison
  • Diane D. Sasser


Based on Walsh’s family resilience framework, the purpose of our chapter was to elucidate the manner in which families directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina have made meaning out of that traumatic event.  We conducted in-depth semi-structured field interviews of south Louisiana families directly affected by Hurricane Katrina twice, in 2006 and again in 2007.  Using Davis, Nolen-Hoeksema, and Larson’s (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 561–574, 1998) two-construct conceptualization of meaning making, three themes emerged about benefit finding: Improved relationships, prioritization and planning, and reappraisal; and four themes emerged about sense making: Order in social environment, attribution to a higher power, general acceptance, and old adages survive. An unexpected theme that emerged during data analyses was the use of humor. Besides discovering that families are resilient, our conclusions are as follows: Make people a priority, weather happens, hope rules, and humor helps. We recommend a bioecological and strength-based, multiple-level approach to all involved in the disaster and trauma arena, regardless of the nature of the crisis.


Geographic Information System Storm Surge Asperger Syndrome Sense Making Benefit Finding 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The research was supported in part by the School of Human Ecology, the College of Agriculture, Louisiana State University and the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. This support is gratefully acknowledged.

We would like to thank the participants of our research, as well as Vicky Tiller, Research Associate, and Robin Knowles, Graduate Assistant, without whom this project would not have been possible.

Approved for publication by the Director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station as manuscript number 2008-239-1936.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Family ScienceSchool of Human Ecology, LSU College of AgricultureBaton RougeUSA

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