Rebuilding Lives: Career Counseling in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster

By Mary E. Buzzetta and Lizette Nale

A natural disaster is a significant, negative life event that impacts an individual's work life and the process of recovering from a natural disaster can cause employment changes. Career counselors play a unique role in assisting displaced individuals in the adjustment process. It is helpful for career development professionals to understand the experiences of disaster victims and be prepared to facilitate the adjustment process.


Several researchers have identified variables that contribute to job change among disaster survivors (Benjamin & Eigles, 1991; Crabbs & Black, 1984; Crabbs & Heffrom, 1981), including loss of loved ones, damage or loss of one’s home, and loss of personal possessions and treasured mementos. Individuals and families who relocate as a result of a disaster face additional difficulties, including losing contact with friends and neighbors, not knowing anyone in the new location, and wanting to participate in activities and sports which are not available in the new location (Benjamin & Eigles, 1991).


Crabbs and Black (1984) suggested strategies career development professionals can use to facilitate the adjustment process, including assessing the severity of the impact, sensitizing employers to disaster effects, encouraging appropriate employer responses, and providing crisis career counseling to disaster victims. Counselors should also recognize and gauge the psychological impact a disaster survivor may be experiencing as a result of physical and mental health complaints (including anxiety, nervousness, and somatic complaints), loss of a loved ones, damage to one’s home, and loss of prized personal mementos and possessions.


Theoretical Foundation

Crabbs and Heffrom (1981) found that survivors of a disaster may experience indecisiveness or unwanted thoughts and ideas. Career professionals need to assess the level of dysfunctional career thoughts and work with individuals to reduce negative career thinking so that the individuals are better able to explore career options and make appropriate decisions. The Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) approach is useful in this situation because of its focus on discovering and disputing negative thinking as well as on providing strategies for coping with difficult decision-making situations. CIP aims to help individuals with current career choices, as well as develop the skills necessary for future career choices. For a more detailed description of the CIP approach, please see Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, and Lenz (2004).


Self-knowledge includes identifying values, interests, skills, and employment preferences. Career professionals can utilize career assessments and card sorts, and can engage the client in an open dialogue about the individual’s life experiences (i.e., the client’s experience in the disaster).


Occupational knowledge includes knowledge of options and may include researching employers in the area who are not affected by the natural disaster. Counselors can encourage the client to consider alternatives that best utilize their values, interests, skills, and employment preferences. Disaster recovery resources are available on the Internet to facilitate research (see the resources section below).


Decision making skills involves understanding the CASVE cycle, a multi-phase decision-making process which includes communication, analysis, synthesis, valuing, and execution. The CASVE cycle is used as a means of approaching a career problem or decision. This process can be utilized to help the client obtain initial employment and improves the client’s decision-making skills, thus, increasing the likelihood that the client will make effective career choices in the future.


Executive processing involves assessing any negative thoughts the client may be experiencing, as this can interfere with an individual’s job search process. The career professional can assist the client in challenging and altering these negative career thoughts and in developing and following through with an Individualized Action Plan (IAP).


Relevant Resources

The Career One Stop web-site (www.careeronestop.org/disasterrecoveryservices/) offers a range of helpful resources for both individuals and employers impacted by a natural disaster and counselors working with disaster victims. The website includes job search, unemployment, financial, and housing assistance.


For individuals interested in additional training opportunities, the American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org/) offers disaster response and emergency preparedness training opportunities. Career development professionals are encouraged to contact their local Red Cross chapters to acquire the necessary information. To find your local chapter, please visit http://www.redcross.org/en/where


The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) offers monetary assistance to individuals, families, and businesses impacted by natural disasters. Their website (http://www.fema.gov/) offers resources to help individuals and businesses recover and rebuild post-disaster.


Dress for Success, a non-profit organization with more than 105 locations throughout the United States, offers a wide range of career development tools including a career closet for disadvantaged women in need of appropriate attire for a professional interview. To learn more about this organization and find a location close to you, please visit http://www.dressforsuccess.org/ Career Gear is a similar organization which provides career development support to men actively seeking employment. For more information, visit http://careergear.org/




Benjamin, J. Y., & Eigles, L. (1991). Support services to relocated families increase employee job performance. Journal of Career Development, 17, 259-264.


Crabbs, M.A., & Black, K.U. (1984). Job change following a natural disaster. The Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 32, 232-239.


Crabbs, M. A., & Heffrom, E. (1981). Loss associated with a natural disaster. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 59, 378-382.


Sampson, J. P., Jr., Reardon, R. C., Peterson, G. W., & Lenz, J. G. (2004). Career counseling and services: A cognitive information processing approach. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.




Mary BuzzettaMary Buzzetta, M.S., LPC-Intern is the College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA) career counselor at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Career Center. Her research interests focus on college student career development and counseling, with particular focus on the Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) Approach. She has experience teaching undergraduate and graduate career development courses. She can be contacted at Mary.Buzzetta@utsa.edu


Lizette NaleLizette Nale, M.A., LPC-Intern is a doctoral candidate in Counselor Education and Supervision at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). She is currently teaching first-year experience (FYE) courses as an adjunct instructor at Alamo Colleges and the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests include critical theory in education and pedagogy in counseling. She can be contacted at Lizette.Nale@utsa.edu

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