Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Jean E. Rhodes

Second Advisor

Lizabeth Roemer

Third Advisor

Mary C. Waters


The purpose of this dissertation was to gain a better understanding, using three interrelated studies, of the experience of posttraumatic growth (PTG) in a sample of a low-income primarily Black young mothers who survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005, including PTG’s relations to adaptive outcomes (happiness and volunteering) and coping strategies. Participants (N=361) completed surveys in the year before Katrina (Time 1; T1) and four years post-Katrina (Time 2; T2). Happiness and volunteering were measured at T1 and T2. PTG was measured by the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) at T2. The PTGI includes five subscales: New Opportunities, Relating to Others, Personal Strength, Appreciation for Life, and Spiritual Change. Qualitative interviews (N = 34) were conducted at T2.

Results from the first study demonstrated significant relationships, with relatively small effects, between the PTGI total score, as well as between the PTGI subscales New Possibilities and Relating to Others, and post-disaster happiness, controlling for pre-disaster happiness. Qualitative results showed that 9 out of 34 respondents spontaneously used dialectical thinking to describe what appeared to be gains in eudaimonic components of happiness made at the expense of hedonic losses. These simultaneous eudaimonic gains and hedonic losses may explain the smaller effects seen of PTG on overall happiness.

Results from the second study showed that the PTGI was not significantly related to post-Katrina volunteering, or to the initiation of volunteering post-Katrina. This lack of findings regarding PTG and volunteering may be due to the limitations of the measure of formal volunteering, particularly in this cultural context.

The third study examined experiences of PTG and coping in the qualitative data. Most (26 out of 34) participants described experiencing PTG within the five domains of the PTGI. PTG stemmed heavily from exposure to post-disaster opportunities in survivors’ new communities – including increased racial diversity, improved neighborhoods, and new educational and economic opportunities. Pre-disaster racial, gender and socioeconomic oppression appeared to strongly influence post-disaster PTG. Religious coping was primary and often served as a framework for PTG and other adaptive coping strategies, highlighting the importance of sensitivity to cultural context.

Implications for research, policy and practice are discussed.


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