The on-going psychological toll from the Canterbury earthquakes

Elizabeth (Libby) Gawith (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, Christchurch, New Zealand)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Publication date: 11 November 2013



The purpose of this paper is to capture the stories of earthquake experiences from one community and relate this material to some of the psychological phases of recovery from a disaster.


The approach taken was qualitative, explorative and participatory. The researchers were partners in the school project, as the school determined its own methodology, participation and end result. The audio or video interviews were open-ended and explored broad themes, in groups and individuals. Participants included multiple members of the same families. The stories of the participants were used to illustrate the psychological phases of recovery.


The experiences of the research participants were reviewed through the psychological phases of recovery highlighted in the literature (e.g. Myers and Zunin, 2000). The phases identified in the stories indicate that the Christchurch situation is consistent with international experience. Additional psychological responses such as community bonding and resilience, as well as living with secondary stressors, were also identified.

Research limitations/implications

There are some commonalities apparent for this group of interviewees, for example, many were together at the school, at the time of the 22 February 2011 earthquake. However, there are also many differences and unique experiences and as such, only tentative generalisations can be made from these interviews.


The paper contributes to the wider collection of research on and about the Canterbury earthquakes by discussing elements of psychological recovery through the experiences of one community of parents, teachers and primary school children.



The author thanks Dr Carol Mutch, Associate Professor, University of Auckland; UNESCO and the University of Auckland for funding for the research project. The author also thanks the principal of the school in which the interviews took place.


(Libby) Gawith, E. (2013), "The on-going psychological toll from the Canterbury earthquakes", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 22 No. 5, pp. 395-404.

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