Phase 2

Biopsychosocial Perspectives

Components of the Ecological Perspective

Social workers work from an ecological perspective. They understand that, regardless of origin, all problems are systemic. Applying this lens to the Hudson City case reveals important insights about the different dimensions of a disaster’s effects, as well as the ways that differences among people affect their outcomes, even from a shared experience.

Biological Lens

The biological dimension refers to the role of biological systems—be they within our bodies (e.g. genetic predispositions), or outside (e.g. airborne pathogens), upon our health and well-being. Typical reactions to disaster could involve somatic symptoms such as exacerbation of pre-existing medical conditions, headaches, stomach aches, and nausea.

  1. From your own experiences, describe what physical effects people have when they are in these stressful situations? How do children and adults physically experience stress differently?
  2. How might people’s identities—gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sexual identity—affect their experiences of stress and its physical manifestations?
  3. How does the biological impact of disaster affect the health and well-being of the entire community, including those not directly and immediately affected?

Psychological Lens

The psychological dimension refers to the role of thoughts, emotion, and behavior on individual, group, or community functioning. Inclusion of this dimension also requires us to look at the mind-body connection in the assessment of a variety of common social work phenomena such as the emotional regulation of stress and cultivation of resilience. People exposed to disaster can present with a variety of emotional responses, from emotional numbness and apathy to panic and overt grief. Cognitive reactions to stress may involve difficulty concentrating and memory problems.

Stress: Stress is a normal response to a physical or emotional challenge and occurs when demands are out of balance with resources for coping. Reactions to stress differ and may depend on the severity or duration of the stress, as well as on the individual’s characteristics and previous experiences.

Resilience: Resilience is the ability to respond to and recover from a disaster quickly, effectively and efficiently. Many people will be resilient and will return to pre-incident functioning in a relatively short period of time with no intervention whatsoever. Early intervention reduces risk.

Severe Reactions: Most people experience normal stress reactions which fade and gradually disappear. Some people may find that these reactions persist over a longer period and worsen, resulting in the need for professional help. The three most common disorders are anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You have likely learned about these psychological concerns and social work approaches to assessment and intervention to aid those experiences these struggles. This knowledge and the skills you are building for practice will help you prepare for your involvement with the Hudson City case, as well.

  • From your own experiences and learning, what psychological effects do people have when they are in stressful situations? How are these effects different for children and adults?
  • How do other dimensions of people’s identities affect their psychological responses to stress?
  • From your own experience, what are some positive and negative ways of coping with stress? How could you draw on people’s previous experiences in coping with stress to cultivate resilience in the event of a disaster?
  1. From your own experiences with adults, describe what psychological effects people have when they are in these stressful situations? With children?
  2. From your own experience, what are some positive and negative ways of coping with stress?
  3. What are some positive ways of coping that can reduce stress in a disaster situation?

Social Lens

The social dimension refers to how individuals relate to various groups and institutions in society–and how groups and institutions relate to individuals or groups. Our mission to assist not only the client system, but all others who might be similarly affected is one of the things that separates social work from other helping professions. The Social Lens allows us to see the impact of oppression on the ability of people to reach goals,

Look at such bonds of affinity as church or other group memberships as sources of strength and social support, and see clients both as individuals and as likely representatives of others with the same problem.

Social work values compel an anti-racist and anti-oppressive approach to disaster relief—as to all practice. Social workers must ensure that disaster planning and response take into consideration differences among different affected populations and stakeholders in a disaster and surrounding community and historic and current disparities, to chart a path forward to recovery that is more equitable and empowering than the pre-disaster landscape. During assessment, then, the social worker must:

  • Understand the community’s composition and incorporate diverse sources to inform assessment.
  • Identify culturally distinct needs.
  • Be knowledgeable about formal and informal community institutions that can help meet diverse disaster-related needs.

Providing culturally competent services requires actions before, during and after a disaster. Disaster workers must insure that disaster planning and response takes into consideration the following actions:

  • Assess and understand the community’s composition
  • Identify culture-related needs of the community
  • Be knowledgeable about formal and informal community institutions that can help meet diverse disaster-related needs
  • Gather information from and establish working relationships with trusted organizations, service providers and cultural group leaders
  • Anticipate and identify solutions to cultural problems that may arise in the event of a disaster (US Department of Health & Human Services, 2003. Developing Cultural Competence in Disaster Mental Health Programs: Guiding Principles and Recommendations. DHHS Pub. No. SMA 3828., p. 20. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
  1. Review the Hudson City map and sociogram to anticipate the needs of specific community groups and identify key sources of community-specific information. What might account for the differences in experiences during and after the hurricane?
  2. What organizations in Hudson City might play which types of roles in assisting the diverse groups within the community? What other organizations might you want to enlist in your response?

Spiritual Lens

The spiritual dimension refers to the role of religious or spiritual beliefs on well-being. These reactions might involve questioning one’s faith or spirituality or turning to one’s faith for comfort.

  1. What might some of these stress reactions look like? How might they manifest differently in different populations within Hudson City?
  2. What might be the role of faith-based institutions and organizations in addressing the spiritual needs of those affected by disasters? How might different types of faith-based institutions engage differently in a disaster?