“All he needed was someone to listen, to know that he wasn’t alone, and that it’s okay to be angry or frustrated with his new normal,” says Kevin Ellers, Territorial Disaster Services Coordinator for The Salvation Army, of a man whose life was uprooted by a tornado.

A hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire will often be one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life, and can leave an entire community dedevastatedcimated. But compounded with this need for physical rebuilding, the sudden and profound loss that disasters cause can have an overwhelming and lasting internal impact.

More than reconstruction

Often overlooked but incredibly important, the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of individuals and families during and after a disaster plays a vital role in their physical recovery. Helping people to draw upon their own spiritual perspective as a source of strength, hope and healing must be a priority in our efforts to meet human need in these drastic situations.

“It can be as simple as sifting through the ashes of someone’s home without saying a word. Just demonstrating a physical support and presence can make all the difference in a survivor’s experience and outlook on recovery.”

“The Salvation Army’s emotional and spiritual care specialists offer ‘psychological first aid’ to both rescue workers and disaster survivors,” says Jeff Jellets, territorial disaster coordinator for The Salvation Army in the Southern Unites States, including Florida, the Gulf Coast and Texas. “It’s not preaching or proselytizing. Rather, it’s offering sensitive, respectful and appropriate support to individuals experiencing a traumatic event, and it takes specific training to do correctly and effectively.”

Side effects of trauma

It’s not uncommon for people dealing with emotional trauma after a natural disaster to experience trouble sleeping, quickness to anger, deep anxiety, strained relationships, a lack of appetite, extreme exhaustion and weariness, and a prolonged increased pulse and high blood pressure. These symptoms can paralyze a survivor from knowing what to do next or from asking for help.

Every emotional and spiritual care specialist goes through specific training to minister to those in need following a disaster. This includes recognizing personal limitations and referring individuals to a licensed professional when needed. They boost the morale of survivors and first responders, and keep them moving forward to their next step, whether that be mucking out their house, applying for recovery assistance or getting back to their rescue work.

But once you’re at the scene of a disaster, there’s no script for emotional and spiritual care work. It looks a little different for each person in need.

Small acts, big impact

“It can be as simple as sifting through the ashes of someone’s home without saying a word. Just demonstrating a physical support and presence can make all the difference in a survivor’s experience and outlook on recovery,” says Ellers.

For more than 100 years, The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services has been serving first responders and survivors of every major natural disaster in the United States. The Salvation Army’s disaster services model includes emotional and spiritual support because it is a vital part of transitioning from relief to rebuilding, and eventually to recovery.