Aussie psychology conference aims to strengthen communities in wake of disasters

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-28 11:39:10|Editor: Xiaoxia
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SYDNEY, June 28 (Xinhua) -- In an age of worsening natural disasters, climate change and the brutal shock of recurring terrorist attacks, now more than ever it seems that the strength and resilience of communities around the world are being put to the test.

To explore how communities can better endure devastating natural and human disasters, a conference focussing on "positive psychology" was held at James Cook University (JCU) in Australia's northeastern state of Queensland on Friday.

JCU psychology lecturer and conference chair, Wendy Li, told Xinhua that traditionally psychology has adopted a more negative and individualistic stance, whereas she thinks communities, particularly minority groups, can be strengthened by shifting that focus to the positive.

"Psychology for a very good long time focused on the dark side of human beings -- that's the history of our discipline," Li said.

"But we think with the development of positive community psychology, it's important for us to use the strength based method to empower people and to help them to go through difficult situations."

Li gave the example of when, in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, local community groups from a diverse range of backgrounds came together to express support for the victims and the Muslim community.

"After the terror attack there was a lot of negative influence on people, particularly for people with a Muslim cultural background -- our Islamic community organized prayer for the victims and people from different cultural backgrounds came together to pray and establish community resilience."

JCU suffered a disaster of its own when earlier this year the university's local city of Townsville suffered a one in a 500-year flood, devastating the area's agricultural industry and causing damage estimated at over half a billion U.S. dollars.

"When people face disaster, sometimes we form a negative point of view of the world, and also even for ourselves," Li said.

"When we experience those difficulties during the disaster, I think the support from each other, from different communities, is very important so that we can build our resilience and rebuild our confidence in the community and in the world as well."

Professor Darrin Hodgetts from New Zealand's Massey University visited JCU for the conference to share his views on the importance of healthy and supportive communities.

"I think people are social animals -- we understand who we are and we recognize our own humanity through our engagements with others, so if those engagements are positive and supportive we tend to be more positive and supportive towards others," Hodgetts told Xinhua.

"And I think if we can actually encourage more conversations across different groups of people and more interaction, you should actually get better relationships as a result."