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Therapeutic Recreation after Disasters: Research Memos

This post is meant for my research project on therapeutic recreation in post-disaster contexts. As I re-analyzed some of my past interview studies, I would like to be transparent with my analysis by showing all the memos associated wit it. ============= The following are the memos ============== Title: Lack of mindfulnessDate: 12/27/2018 So far I have coded several cases from Katrina and GEJE. Right now, I am coding Tosh from Katrina. Among the 5 LWB mechanisms, I think I have got 4 covered, except for mindfulness (although leisure gratification was not mentioned a lot either; that's another memo). And I used this mindfulness code for the first time for Tosh. He was describing how his mind was focused on the single, urgent task of rebuilding his flooded house for 11 months after the hurricane. This is a long time for one to focus one's mind on a single project. However, the task was related to such a fundamental part of his life: house. House also relates to other basic components of life -- sleeping, taking shower, cooking, and having leisure (like, Tosh's favorite home-based leisure: watching TV). When one's mind is this busy with one thing, it takes up the room for being mindful for other things. This may be why 5 or so transcripts I have coded so far did not mention any of mindfulness components. Instead, they mentioned A LOT of uncertainty. Uncertainty in the post-disaster contexts means not knowing the extent of disaster damage, not knowing where to live, how to live, what to do; not knowing when one can get a house back, a job back, a community back, a school back, etc. These are the content of uncertainty, or "what" of uncertainty. The consequence of uncertainty is that the never-ending thought and worry. Post-disaster uncertainty is related to essentially un-answerable questions. For example, no one knew how soon one survivor can get his home rebuilt. No one can answer it, but it does not mean that one can stop asking this question and thinking about it. That's the real harm here, in relation to mindfulness. Survivors' mind is too full of thoughts and worries about these uncertain issues. There was no room for mindfulness and mindful leisure specifically (with the fact that leisure had a less priority in their mind at that time). Having this noted, I would argue this absence of mindfulness is NOT the evidence that mindful leisure would not work in post-disaster contexts. I feel that the opposite would be the case for many survivors. If you can intentionally create the space to be mindful about surrondings that one can be certain about--including leisure, that could help survivors being free from the endless loop of uncertainty thoughts. I would need to find at least one case for this... Perhaps Ume, who did some meditation?

Title: Scope of leisure gratifications

Date: 12/27/2018

At this point, I have coded a few of each of Katrina and GEJE survivors, and there were only a few references to "leisure gratifications" (e.g., Hurley), which I think goes beyond the definition of this concept by Hood and Carruthers (2016). They defined the concept by stating "learning to identify, select, and modify leisure experiences in order to create the possibility of flow and ultimately to support the ongoing development of skills and capacities" (p. 7). So, it's essentially about flow and engagement (as per Seligman).

I think there are some fundamental problems. The first is that "gratifications" -- by which Hood and Carruthers meant deeper satisfaction -- are assumed to be derived only from flow. Flow is an optimal psychological experience, but it's just ONE TYPE of it. Within leisure contexts, Fenton and Walker discussed that there are several other psychologically deep experiences (also see Kleiber et al., 2011). Some of them are communitas, fascination (based on nature and ART), and spirituality (transcendence). The interpersonal/community aspect of the optimal experience -- communitas -- may be very important too in the post-disaster context, because disasters disrupt communities and relationships. Moreover, some of group events (e.g., Saints home game after Katrina) is symbolic and uplifting -- it sends out the message that survivors are there and are having a life. These events also reassure them that they will get through this challenging time. The festive nature of sports and music events (e.g., Mardi Gras) tend to cause this fleeting sense of community.

All of this means that "leisure gratifications" or optimal/engaging leisure in the post-disaster context needs to be conceptualized more broadly than Hood and Carruthers did. It's not simply about flow. It can't be. Sometimes survivors lose access to the activities they are good at. Often the issue is not about developing one's individual skills and capacities, but to re-building community's resources and capacities (in relation to resilience). Thus, optimal leisure after disasters can be interpersonal and communal.

Title: Disaster hassles and mindfulness

Date: 12/28/2018

Today, I was coding Ume, one of the Japanese American Katrina survivors. She was an artist and I knew she talked about some of mindfulness and spirituality issues. This was an intentional selection after discussing the absence of mindful leisure so far in the past memo. Indeed, Ume mentioned some of mindful leisure. Taking time. Scheduling leisure, unstructured time to get out of a harried life after the disaster. This part -- the relationship between mindfulness and hassle-- something that I want to discuss further in this memo.

Based on the literature review, I thought that mindfulness would be important for survivors who suffer from the constant worry about the future and flashbacks of traumatic past events. So, I theorized that mindfulness would bring survivor's attention from the future or past to the present. This was not really apparent so far (I have coded 6 people so far).

Instead, what Ume was suggesting was that she was having this post-Katrina life with increased hassles, and that's where it was important for her to be mindful. Take time off. This I could see apply to many other individuals after Katrina or GEJE. Many GEJE survivors, for example, said that time flied so fast dealing with many things -- e.g., funerals, rebuilding house, getting a job, taking care of family members etc. Their post-disaster life was a constant, load of tasks to do. Although this kind of sounds like a typical lifestyle in a big city, this was not really case for many Kartina and GEJE survivors. New Orleans was known for slower lifestyle, while the country side the GEJE struck was also very different from the metropolitan area in Japan. This could be very stressful for survivors.

Hence, the mindfuless. It's sort of like being relaxed and peaceful for a moment, too. But, just trying to slow down this quick pace life, even temporarily. Perhaps, having a cup of tea with your friends or neighbors. Listening to your favorite music. Playing with your children. Just be here and now, rather than constantly thinking of what to do next. Personally, I can resonate with this a lot. I tend to schedule my life based on my work -- a series of teaching preps, writing papers, doing research, writing grants, etc. They never end. I feel very good about being spontaneous here and there. Just going for a half round of gold with a colleague because the weather is so nice. Just spending a lazy morning with my wife. The same could be true for disaster suvivors, to an extent.

Title: comfort and authenticity

Date: 12/28/2018

This is a memo about the 3rd type of leisure well-being model mechanisms -- authenticity -- and its relavance to post-disaster life contents. I have used this code authenticity a few times so far -- survivors getting back to who they really were, expressing their truer sense of self through leisure. So, that part has been very consistent with Hood and Carruthers's conceptualization. There has been several instances I created and used the code called "comfort." Survivors are talking about feeling comfortable with their own (rebuilt) house, with their family or close friends, with their pet, etc. I have this gut feeling that there is something about the relationship between authenticity and comfort, which is why I am writing this memo.

First, here is the definition of authenticity from Hood and Carruthers (2016): "experiences that reflect personal strengths, interests, and aptitudes" (p. 7). They also say, "Using and cultivating one's most self-defining signature strengths, interests, and virtues lead to the realization of one's full, unique human potential. ... Signature strengths, interest, and aptitudes are characterized by a sense of 'true self' abd authenticity, intrinsic motivation, enthusiasum and excitement, and energization." Is it only me who thinks this conceptualization heavily Western, individualistic? It also sound like biasing toward high-arounsal dimension of psychological experience. Why being authentic has to be "exciting"? If one feels like being who they are, don't they feel rather relaxed, calm, peaceful, and "comfortable"? Like, the English expression "feeling comfortable under one's skin" (or something in that line) goes? I feel that there is some bias toward HOW one can and should be authentic. There is too much emphasis on "striving to be the best version of self" which is consistent with Aristotle's idea of "daimon" and the emerging eudaimonic well-being literature. But, when people go through traumatic like disasters, often what's important is not really trying to be something better, more. But rather, just returning to the ordinary, comfortable version of self, as this can be lost through life-changing experiences.

Second, Hood and Carruthers's conceptualization of authenticity is also very "self-ish." It virtually does not refer to others. However, humans are social beings. The authentic version of self is defined by others around us as much as by ourselves. Indeed, one GEJE survivor was told by her neighbors that she was getting back to who she really was -- cheerful, funny, social -- through their chatting. Moreover, a large part of being true to self, I would argue, is about whether one can feel comfortable in their interpersonal relationships. This is also important in post-disaster lives, because often survivors' communities and relationships were strained and destroyed.

In short, I propose that, based on the data coded so far, the concept of authenticity should be expanded in two ways: (1) embracing more comfortable, low-arounsal side of being who one really is, and (2) incorporating interpersonal aspect of authenticity.

Title: Communal virtue

Date: 12/29/2018

This is the issue that came to my mind when I was coding Satoko's transcript yesterday. Satoko did a lot of volunteer-like activities since she was displaced to the temporary housing complex. She started an initiative in which a group of survivor residents went around the complex (which initially accommodated about 1,000 survivors) and greeted everyone, especially older residents who were alone. Sometimes she would visit those who looked lonely or so door-to-door. She also organized countless free meal events and recreational events for residents, while cooperating with disaster volunteers. She also began several volunteer activities for future disaster survivors and other people in need (e.g., making and selling craftworks to gain some money for a charity). All of this sounds very much virtuous leisure.

Hood and Carruthers (2016, p. 8) defined virtuous leisure as "leisure experiences that allow one to use one's strengths to make a contribution to the world in some way." They also quoted Seligman saying "meaning comes from the dedication of one's signature strengths in service to something larger than oneself, a greater good." Then they went on listing many examples. Although the latter examples were diverse in nature, their core conceptualizations were, I argue, fixated on one's strengths and characters. To be fair, this is based on the positive psychology research, specifically virtuous character research by Seligman and Peterson (VIA), and further it can be traced back to the ancient Western philosophies of the relationship between ethics and self.

However, more dialectic, fluit, sometimes even contradictory Eastern philosophies tell us that what's good can vary across situations. More importantly, good is really about collective, communal good, rather than individual ethics. It's not about what's good about you, but what good (for others) come out of you. The key question I want to raise here is: do survivors have to mobilize their "signature" strengths to be virtuous? Or, can they simply help others and be good? I think that the latter may be the case. Theoretically, limiting virtuous leisure to one's signature characteristics blurs the boundary between authentic and virtuous leisure.

I am not saying that some of my interviewees did not use their strentths to help others; probably they did to an extent. But, their accounts were rather focused on others and community -- i.e., greater good -- rather than themselves. Moreover, Satoko and a few other Katrina survivors (with only notes) suggested that helping others helped themselves. It's like this. Satoko was depressed (possibly PTSD with flashbacks) and did not get out of her apartment. She knew (probably others told her) that this wasn't healthy. So, she started to go out and do that greeting initiative. People responded to her activity and started to greet her back, and there was a stronger sense of community in that housing complex, which is greater good. Now those older residents who got cheered up by Satoko, made her feel like she "cannot lag behind them" and have to stay strong and positive. It was the positive spiral and "echo", if you will, of virtuousness. Doing something good for others allows one to see positive effects of those good interactions, which then encourages and motivates oneself.

Post-disaster life is a touch time. No one single survivor can go through it alone. Strengths of any one survivor is often too weak in front of highly traumatic, uncontrollable, uncertain, and stressful life situations. But, when survivors can echo their virtues among them -- sometimes through leisure practices, then the magnitute of virtue amplifies to the extent that sustains survivors' effective recovery, healing, and transformation. In this sense, virtuous leisure in post-disaster lives should be expanded to be communal and collective. I just need a better word to capture this "echoing" part...

Title: My assumptions 1

Date: 12/29/2018

As the thematic analysis appoarch identifies reflecting on the analyst's own assumptions around the research topic as an important practice toward rigor, I wanted to write a reflective memo about some of my assumptions.

First and foremost, the key issue in this particular project is that I have analyzed both datasets (i.e., Katrina and GEJE) before from a different theoretical perspective. Thus, I have seen the transcripts from a different angle, and I should be careful not to gravitate toward that again. So far, I have coded about 15 transcripts/notes, and I think that having the pre-determined coding scheme helps in this regard. It helps me not readily replicate the previous codes and themes. Meanwhile, I am also allowing other data-driven codes to emerge, as well, and many of them look like my previous codes. Some of these emerging codes are rather new, though: different from the coding scheme or previous codes. This means that the choice of deductive (and inductive) coding was effective.

Second, the datasets were collected, to an extent, based on these theoretical expectations. Although interviews were semi-structured and interviewees had opportunities to go off the topics, questions were largely about theoretical themes. This is largely why many of the emerging codes are similar to what I had in the previous analyses -- the data are already about these theoretical topics.This is not something that we can fix at this point. Obviously, it would be better to collect new data specifically for the current research questions. However, given the rarity and inaccessibleness of disaster survivors, I would argue that our re-analysis of existing data has merits. This is a limitation that we should acknowledge clearly.

Third, I am bringing in this specific theoretical model of Leisure Well-Being Model by Hood and Carruthers. It's an assumption that this may work. Indeed I was aware of their early work in 2007 before I was conducting the data collection. However, I rather focused on stress coping aspect, as to me back then, disaster-caused negativity was more obvious and fixing it through leisure seemed to be a more urgent issue. However, going through the data, writing and rewriting about the data (boy, did I spend a lot of time on this), thinking about it, reading other things (especially positive psychology) later, and observing more disasters since, made me realize that fixing negativity is not the whole story. That cannot make survivors "happy" again, whatever that means. Life does not begin until you actually bring back something fun, meaningful, exciting, peaceful, etc. Fixing disaster-related negativity is not same as enhancing positivity in post-disaster lives. Now I think I can see that my survivor interviewees were already discussing the importance of regaining positivity through leisure, and that's why I wanted to do this project. Yet, again, that's my assumption. I did not revisit the data to check these hypotheses. I should be careful not to blindly apply the theory to my data.

The third point makes me think that next, I should reflect on the theoretical model's assumptions (e.g., disciplinary, cultural).

Title: Assumptions of the LWM

Date: 1/1/2019

As part of the process to strive for higher rigor in thematic analysis, I am writing about assumptions of the Leisure Well-Being Model by Hood and Carruthers (2016). This is the guiding framework in our paper, and it's important that we are aware of the assumptions attached to the model, so that we would not blindly impose them onto our data. Specifically, I focuse on the 5 leisure engancement elements: savoring, authenticity, gratification, mindfulness, and virtunousness.

They defined savoring as the act "to purposefully foster, appreciate, and extend the positive emotion associated with leisure engagement" which is almost consistent with Bryant and Veroff (2007). They further descrived it as "the ability to attend to and fully immerse themselves in the joy and satisfaction of anticipatinng, living, and reminiscing about their leisure experiences" (p. 7). The bottom line is that savoring is about here-and-now. Triggering, extending, and amplifying positive emotions. Yet, it certainly has some implications for the future and past: some savoring is about anticipating what great joy comes in the near future, while other techniques are about recollecting past positive experiences or even thinking of how one would tell the current positive experiences to others (in this future moment, the current is told as the past). Reflecting how much effort one has made in the past to achieve the current joy is also a type of savoring.

In terms of assumptions related to savoring, the most obvious one is that the concept is based on the premise that positive emotions are conducive to well-being, and dismisses any other types of emotions, especially negative ones. Often savoring is contrasted with (stress) coping; savoring is for positive emotions, and coping is for negative emotions and stress. This binary thinking to me seems in line with the Western linear logical thought process. Cross-cultural psychology has shown us that East Asians do experience a mix of positive and negative emotions even in positive situations, while they do not hope to experience a very high level of positive emotions because of their "moderation" tendency. For example, wouldn't it be almost deviant to go around and just smiling after disasters? Would it really help that person's overall well-being? I am not sure if this is socially and culturally beneficial.

That said, I can definitely see the applicability of savoring to post-disaster life contexts. Often, post-disaster lives are too stressful and depressing. Survivors need some breaks from this dominance of negative emotions. They discussed (well partially because I asked them) "diversions" that resulted in some level of positive emotions. This is essentially "triggering" positive emotions. Yes, they may not last for a long time, or they may not have much long-term adaptive benefits. However, doing something positive for a time being helps one from not thinking about traumatic events, not worrying about the future, not fighting with their friends and family members, etc.

Authenticity is the second element, and I have already challenged its individualistic conceptualization in my memo on "comfort and authenticity". The bottom line is that we should be careful not to rigidly assume that one does and should know who they really are and express it through authenticity. Self is defined and redefined in relation to others and depending on situations. Another issue is that being authentic is not necessarily exciting thing (although Hood and Carruthers seem to assume so); it could be calming and comfortable. The cultural bias toward the high-arousal state should be carefully examined.

The third element is leisure gratifications, and it's basically flow-based skill and resource development according to Hood and Carruthers. I have already critiqued some of the assumptions in the previous memo on "Scope of Leisure Gratification". Flow should not be treated as the only gratifying psychological experience through leisure. Leiure is more than that. Specifically, flow is often highly individual and misses any interpersonal components. For that, the concept of communitas or fleeting sense of connections with others may be helpful. Also problematic is that its focus on PERSONAL skills and resources. I mean, individual skills and resources do not make too much difference in post-disaster life contexts. And that's fine. A few interviewees discussed the importance of their spirituality in post-disaster adaptations. Often, they are more about accepting situations, rather than trying to control them. Here, the cross-cultural literature says that North Americans tend to emphasize too much of "primary control" to influence and change environment, while East Asians tend to appeal to "secondary control" to adjust to environmental changes. Any arguments around which is better, to me, should be culturally and socially situated.

The fourth element is mindfulness, which is "the state of open awareness that arises from intentional, nonjudgmental attention to the unfolding of present moment-to-moment external and internal experiences." I discussed it a little in my memo on "hassle and mindfulness." Mindfulness is an interesting one here, because it has a cultural root in East Asian philosophy (e.g., zen). I don't really see issues here, but there are not many interviewees who explicitly mentioned it.

The fifth and last element is virtuousness. I have discussed its individualistic aspect in the memo on "Communal virtue." To reiterate, I think it's problematic that virtuousness is centered on one's signature characteristics. What's good may not be about one's strengths. Maybe we need a broader concept than virtuousness in post-disaster contexts?