The Nguyens: A Natural Disaster Affects a Family System Stressor events are those…

The Nguyens: A Natural Disaster Affects a Family System

Stressor events are those occurrences—positive or negative,
predictable or unforeseen— that provoke change in the functioning of a system.
They may be categorized as normative or nonnormative. The Nguyen family has
experienced a number of provoking stressors, some of which they chose, others
that they did not.

Stressors may be categorized by source, type, and severity,
and they should be considered within the external context. The external context
includes variables such as culture, history, education, and heredity over which
the
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The Nguyens: A Natural Disaster Affects a Family System

Stressor events are those occurrences—positive or negative,
predictable or unforeseen— that provoke change in the functioning of a system.
They may be categorized as normative or nonnormative. The Nguyen family has
experienced a number of provoking stressors, some of which they chose, others
that they did not.

Stressors may be categorized by source, type, and severity,
and they should be considered within the external context. The external context
includes variables such as culture, history, education, and heredity over which
the Nguyen family has no control. Crisis counselors who work with the Nguyens
need to explore the family’s Vietnamese culture as well as possible additional
cultural issues related to being part of an immigrant community along the Gulf
Coast of the United States. Imbedded in these considerations is the fact that
the Nguyens chose to leave Vietnam for the United States some 30 years after
the Vietnam War. What kinds of social prejudices and biases does this couple
face simply by being Vietnamese? Are there additional biases that they endure
by virtue of being immigrants in a post-9/11 U.S. society?

The Nguyens’s situation is complicated by their economic
status, another component of their external context. Prior to the hurricane,
they were making a living in the shrimp industry. They had few bills and no
debt; however, they had no medical insurance. On those rare occasions when they
required medical attention, they were able to use community public health resources.
In the aftermath of the hurricane and the tough economic times that followed,
numerous public, nonprofit health agencies were forced to close their doors,
making it difficult for the Nguyens to access prenatal care. When their
daughter was born with a birth defect, they found it necessary to travel to a
larger city to receive care for her needs. Thus, they incurred transportation
and lodging expenses, further affecting their delicate economic status.

Having lost their livelihood as shrimpers to the hurricane,
the Nguyens were forced to look for work elsewhere. They were fortunate to have
a rather large social support network as well as acquaintances who helped them
find employment once retail outlets began to reopen in the months after the
hurricane. Unfortunately, the retail jobs they found paid little more than
minimum wage and did not include medical insurance. The Nguyens’ educational
background and minimal fluency in English made it difficult for them to pursue
higher-paying jobs.

The Nguyens were also influenced by internal contextual
factors—those factors that originate within the family and are accompanied by
changes in the way the family functions. When they chose to leave their family
and friends in Vietnam in order to move to the United States, the structure and
definition of their family became less clear, particularly given the limited
opportunities they had to return for visits. They also were forced to wrestle
with issues related to caring for their aging parents. Once the Nguyens were
living in the United States, their family structure changed further when they
became parents themselves.

For the Nguyens, a relatively young couple, becoming parents
could be considered a “normative” stressor—something normal, predictable, and
developmental in nature. The stressor of becoming parents could also be
considered volitional, as a degree of choice was involved. Conversely,
nonnormative stressors are those that are unexpected. A catastrophic event such
as the hurricane and all of its ramifications should certainly be classified as
nonnormative. For the Nguyens, having a child with spina bifida is also a
nonnormative and nonvolitional stressor, and its lasting implications make its
presence chronic.

To ameliorate their situation, the Nguyens have several
resources, derived from both internal and external contexts, on which they may
rely. Although they left friends and family behind in order to move to the
United States, they are members of a fairly large immigrant community. From
this community, they receive a tremendous amount of social support. In
addition, the Nguyens were able to use public community resources for health
care and for other basic survival needs in the weeks and months after the
hurricane. The Nguyens possess strengths such as initiative, resourcefulness,
and a strong work ethic that have helped them to be resilient in the face of
their stressors.

Discussion Questions

1. Apply the task model of crisis assessment and
intervention to the case of the Nguyens and develop a treatment plan for
intervention.

2. What sources of resilience and support can the Nguyens
harness to cope with their circumstances?

3. What additional developmental or situational crises are
likely to occur in this family in the years ahead? How can you help prepare or
inoculate them to better adjust to those circumstances?

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