The Psychology of Extreme Circumstances

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This section of the book is all about the ways in which people’s experiences affect how they understand things, and how experiences impact on people’s understandings. In this chapter you will focus on ‘extreme circumstances’, particularly considering the ways in which experiencing these kinds of situations might affect individuals, and the different ways in which those affected might be supported in coping with this. You will begin by considering what events and/or experiences might be considered to be ‘extreme circumstances’. You will then be introduced to different typologies (or categories) of extreme circumstances, which will help you to consider the different factors that might influence a) whether an individual labels his/her experience as ‘traumatic’, b) the likely impact of exposure to the event/circumstance, and c) ‘appropriate’ ways of, and resources necessary for, coping. After this you will be introduced to the negative impacts of exposure to a variety of extreme circumstances. You will contemplate different diagnoses that are associated with aversive reactions to extreme circumstances and the different impacts that the various extreme circumstances might entail. These include impacts that might extend beyond the individual to their social networks and community. This should help you to understand the range of needs someone might have following their extreme experience. You will be encouraged to explore recovery from trauma and to contrast recovery with the concept of resilience. You will consider how some people not only prove to be resilient in the face of trauma or demonstrate a natural inclination for recovery, but how they in fact appear to gain something positive from their exposure to extreme circumstances. The rationale for this is that it is important not to think, after reading the first part of the chapter, that all people who have experienced a potentially traumatic experience are necessarily traumatised, or that the impact of the event on them will be persistent. The final section of the chapter is called ‘Perils, pitfalls and positive effects of psychological interventions’. Here you will be encouraged to think about the fact that there may be more than one ‘best’ intervention for different forms of trauma and to contemplate whether an intervention is always required. Before you embark on working through this chapter there are a few words of warning to consider. Due to the nature of this chapter, the content will inevitably touch on some sensitive, taboo and possibly triggering topics. This includes mass school shootings, bereavement, child sexual abuse and war. It is therefore important that you are mindful that some of these things might either be beyond the realm of your own experience and thus shocking to contemplate, or that they may serve as reminders of some of your own experiences. Please be gentle with yourself when progressing through the chapter. Perhaps this is not the best bedtime reading material and it might be wise to balance reading this with a positive activity afterwards – even if that is only a cup of tea and a chat with friends.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiving Psychology
Subtitle of host publicationFrom the Everyday to the Extraordinary
EditorsJim Turner, Meg John Barker
PublisherOpen University Press
ISBN (Print)1780078595
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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