Alyssa Basile remembers how Superstorm Sandy barreled through New Jersey in 2012. Her good friend lost her house and other people close to her were affected by the destructive hurricane. “It was such a period of distress,” said Basile, who is pursuing postgraduate art therapy studies at Caldwell University.
When Basile was choosing a research project for her graduate work, she decided to focus on what the shelter experience was like for those who had to live in temporary housing after the storm. She learned there was little research on what happens psychologically to people when they live in disaster relief shelter, especially after Hurricane Sandy.
Now Basile’s work has come to fruition; her study, “Disaster relief shelter experience during Hurricane Sandy: A preliminary phenomenological inquiry,” has been published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Two Caldwell University professors—Dr. Thomson Ling, associate dean of the School of Psychology and Counseling, and Traci Bitondo, an adjunct lecturer in the school—provided feedback for the study. “It is very exciting,” says Basile, who spent four years on the work.
She interviewed three former shelter staff members and concentrated on their perspectives on shelter residents, the psychological challenges, the beneficial aspects and their recommendations for the future. “I hope it spreads awareness of the needs of the community. We need to accommodate these needs in future shelters,” said Basile.
Basile, a therapist, became interested in incorporating art therapy into her counseling practice when she found that art making can be “cathartic, foster clients’ creativity and provide a lens for nonverbal communication.” She already had a master’s in clinical mental health counseling, so she decided to pursue the postgraduate art therapy program at Caldwell. “The art therapy classes have prompted me to reflect on my current counseling practice and provided me with valuable knowledge on the art therapy.”
Basile found positive aspects of the shelter experience such as a sense of community that formed among those living in the housing. However, as the study states, “participants highlighted the importance of future shelters having a wider range of medical resources, more therapeutic services for adolescents, enhanced procedures to transition occupants out of shelters, and stronger psychological support for staff.”
Basile hopes her research will help other practitioners who work with people facing natural disasters and will encourage further discussion on the topic.