Fire and Fury: Community Resilience After A Bushfire Trauma

The 2018 Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference is almost here again, this year the Conference will be held over the 21-22 May at The Star Gold Coast.

Mr Max Von Sabler, Clinical Psychologist, Monash Health, The Cairnmillar Institute, Mvs Group joins us at the Conference to discuss ‘Fire and Fury: Community Resilience After A Bushfire Trauma’.


Aim: To understand how and why, individuals exposed to extreme stress in the context of bushfires perform differently in terms of psychological outcomes relating to well being.

Design: This study employed a quantitative non-random sampling method to understand resilience within bushfire affected communities.

Method: Participants were sourced throughout rural Victoria using a comprehensive recruitment campaign spanning November 2015 to June 2016. The campaign included radio and media interviews with ABC and local newspapers, community seminars, and engagement with key stakeholders. 33-respondents were included. Instruments measuring stress, wellness, coping and personality constructs (locus of causality) were administered by way of an anonymous survey.

Results: The results of the research support the view that the stress associated with a bushfire significantly impacts wellbeing. Notably, however, an individual’s enduring beliefs and attributions about cause and effect within the environment, i.e. personality, were shown to be significantly more responsible for changes in wellbeing in the aftermath of a bushfire. Specifically, personality was shown to affect the psychological capital and coping responses of individuals which mediated the relationship between stress and wellbeing. In this way, personality was shown to organise an individual’s psychological and behavioural responses to stress.

Conclusion: The findings of this research provide critical evidence as to the nature of psychological resilience. Specifically, the dialectical nature of wellbeing and interactional nature of coping and personality in the context of stress were elucidated. These findings provide evidence for new approaches in clinical practice with traumatised individuals and community based programmes, especially those affected by natural disasters. There is evidence of the organising power of personality in understanding human responses to stress. A robust autonomous personality appears to provide inoculation in the face of considerable stress. Policymakers can take direction from this work, given the very real and significant threat that bushfires pose to health and wellbeing of Australians.


Max is a consultant psychologist working in the public and private health sectors. He currently holds several appointments at Monash Health where he provides specialist consultation and liaison to medical teams and the emergency department regarding diagnosis and treatment. Max also teaches at Melbourne University and sits on the Cairnmillar Institute’s Clinical Research Advisory Board. He is actively engaged in multiple ongoing research projects and has several key publications in the area of resilience and trauma. Max has worked extensively with adults and older-adults through his work at major hospitals, as well as remote and rural communities.

For more information on the 2018 Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference and to secure your spot, visit the conference website.