Bushfires one year on: Finding your own path to recovery

Blackened landscape

With the one year anniversary of the October 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires approaching next week, many of the families and individuals who lost homes and possessions or were affected in some way by the fires, find themselves still struggling to come to terms with their losses.

Everyone finds their own path to recovery and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works for every person, says David Mutton, Forensic Psychologist in the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

"If you asked each survivor of last year's Blue Mountains bush fires what they have done to aid in their recovery, each of them would give you a different set of strategies that works for them. This is the nature of recovery from trauma – we all find our own unique roads to recovery," he says.

David Mutton says that some people find that talking about it to whoever will listen is the best way to come through; others find that getting involved in other activities and not talking or thinking about it helps them. Still others will refuse to be beaten and rebuild their homes in the exact same location; others will need to move far away and set up their homes in a different location. 

"All of these strategies will have the capacity to assist the survivors. However, we have learnt that there are no absolute right or wrong ways to move on. Nevertheless, there are some strategies that are more likely to help than others," he says.

  • Allow people –  but not to force them – to talk about their experiences
  • Make sure you are not intrusive, and respect their decision not to talk about it if that is their preferred way
  • You need to give people time: some will bounce back fairly quickly whereas others may take longer to get back to normal functioning
  • There is no exact time frame –  recognise that recovery from psychological injury, like physical injury, may take more or less time depending on the affected individual
  • Participation in commemorating events, such as the Recognition Day and Thanksgiving Service, can help heal the wounds and to bring people together in a spirit of community and support
  • Some may find that the psychological wounds are still too raw to be able to attend such gatherings – this needs to be respected as well

"Don't be shy about seeking professional help," says David Mutton.

"If you find that you are still struggling to function day by day as a result of your experience in the fires, then it would be a good idea to consult with your GP with the view to gaining assistance from a trained professional.  They can help you deal with distressing memories, images or thoughts that are still overwhelming you."


14 October 2014

Photos Bruce Kerridge

Lyn Danninger, Media Officer

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