The psychology of disasters with Dr. Rony Berger

100 Inspiring Voices | Episode 20 | Rony Berger | The psychology of disasters


Dr. Rony Berger is a clinical psychologist and an internationally recognized expert in the psychology of terrorism and other major disasters.

In his addition to his work as a researcher, lecturer, and advisor, Rony has led humanitarian delegations in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes in Haiti, China, and Turkey, and the Fukushima meltdown in Japan.

In this conversation, I speak with Rony about what makes communities resilient, the factors that lead to post-traumatic growth in individuals, and how to raise compassionate children.


5:00 – “A resilient community is a community that has worked on being resilient. It is not just a coincidence. For example the sense of belonging to the community, the leadership in the community, the sense of cohesion prior to the disaster or traumatic event.”

5:30 – “We know that communities that have been cohesive and worked with each other and developed some pride react very differently than communities that are separated, divided, and have a lot of animosity.”

7:15 – “It’s like an accelerator – a stressful event or a disaster – and you see how the communities that weren’t united before break apart.”

11:30 – “Collective communities can work together [better] because beforehand they have social structures, they have leadership, they have groups that interact together in a positive way.”

14:00 – “While the structures that are built and prepared before a disaster are important, I also can see how when you have a voice that unites the people and inspires the people to come together, then things can emerge.”

15:30 – “There are also communities that can take the disaster or negative effect and make it an opportunity to grow.”

18:15 – “Often times there is a third stage of disaster, which is called the disillusionment stage, where people get start to get tired of helping each other and they go back to normalcy, international groups are not helping anymore, and there is the question of whether the community can hold together. If they can pass through this stage… things get better.”

20:20 – “Often times we see during disasters, when things get out of control, people start to cocoon themselves to their own inner groups and reject the other groups. That is a danger that we need to be aware of.”

21:45 – “While a community that undergoes a disaster can heal itself, they have to be in the long run very conscientious of the fact that people tend to (A) move away from helping and (B) look for someone to blame and can create division in the groups in the communities.”

26:00 – “We need to prepare for those who are unable to help themselves.”

32:45 – “I would say there are at least four or five factors [that lead to post-traumatic growth]… growth mindset… cognitive flexibility… putting things in perspective… optimism… practicing gratitude.”

36:00 – “There is some debate in the research about whether post-traumatic growth is not an artifact of enhancing the bad situation. There are some scholars that suggest that those who say they grew out of a bad situation say it in order to feel good, but in the long run they don’t.”

37:30 – “If you ask me why some people are able to be optimistic, I would assume – and this is not my area of research – that some of it has to do with they way they grew up, their attachment, the way their parents related to difficult situations.”

38:50 – “Modeling is an extremely important thing. Parents are influenced to a great degree by their own experiences.”

39:15 – “Authoritative parenting refers to the parents that really try to understand their kids, try to explain to their kids, don’t push rules on them, and allow their kids to express themselves while at the same time putting limits to the kids.”

41:45 – “Even toddlers, at the age of 4 and 5, can be taught to be pro-social.”

42:20 – “You can actually train kids to be more empathetic, to understand others, to give of themselves. And I think if we do that, we can create communities that can be more healthful, more unified. This is what I really hope we can achieve.”

43:00 – “The more we are connected, the more we help each other, the more the human race will survive.”

45:15 – “I wouldn’t do my work if I wasn’t an optimist.. I believe you can change.”

46:15 – “Kids have the capacity to be absolutely wonderful, helpful, altruistic, but they can also be very selfish. And what will change them is the way that we cultivate those qualities in them.”

54:45 – “The dilemma with [changing habits] is that if you don’t do it enough, the change doesn’t come because the first stages are very difficult and you don’t get the benefit yet.”

57:15 – “If you don’t have the support of others, it’s extremely difficult to change.”


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