Disaster Psychologist Dr. Jamie D. Aten Draws Lessons from Life’s Literal and Figurative Storms in New Book
WHEATON, Ill., Dec. 13, 2018 – Dr. Jamie D. Aten, disaster psychologist and founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College, intertwines his journey of battling cancer with lessons learned from being in the throes of disaster zones around the globe in his new book, “A Walking Disaster: What Hurricane Katrina and Cancer Taught me About Faith and Resilience,” releasing Jan. 14, 2019 from Templeton Press.
After spending years helping others in disaster areas as executive director of HDI, Aten, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, received a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer at the age of 35. Knowing his profession as a disaster psychologist, his oncologist remarked, “You’re in for your own personal disaster.” Aten underwent a yearlong battle that included surgeries and multiple treatments and is currently a survivor in remission.
“My fight against cancer was by far the scariest and most difficult time of my life,” said Aten. “This personal tragedy taught me more about suffering and adversity than I liked. However, this painful experience taught me spiritual and psychological lessons I don’t think I would have ever been able to learn from just my research.”
“A Walking Disaster” details Aten’s journey from diagnosis to recovery, while sharing stories from his fieldwork in natural and widespread disaster areas. By connecting these two types of catastrophes, he helps readers notice a discernible rhythm from the moment of impact they might undergo in their own life—a diagnosis, calamity, death, divorce or other disaster—to a time they can flourish despite their hardship or suffering.
Aten says one of the key elements in any individual’s path forward after disaster is finding meaning in suffering. Through his research of natural disasters, which is unpacked in “A Walking Disaster,” he discovered that those who engage in spiritual surrender fare better psychologically. Yet through his own crisis, it was something he found difficult to put into practice.
“While I understood that the data on the benefits of spiritual surrender proved that it worked for many, I frankly struggled with the idea,” writes Aten. “What I learned … when I’d come completely to the end of myself, was that nothing was passive about spiritual surrender. Deciding to trust God when the outcome of that choice was unpredictable was a willful act of obedience.”
“A Walking Disaster” specifically addresses stages and situations that could be experienced in a number of personal tragedies. Themes addressed in the book include: helpers who aren’t helpful; survivor guilt; sharing tough subjects with children; finding a new “normal”; fear; lament and dealing with pain and trauma. Aten shares stories of how he was able to help in disasters, research from disaster aftermath, how others helped him during his own disaster and insights he took away from working with disaster survivors.
“Disaster survivors taught me it was possible, even if for only brief moments, to continue living life in the wake of catastrophe,” Aten said. “During my extended cancer disaster, my family doing what we’d been doing prior to my diagnosis was critical to stabilizing our lives during the storm in its aftermath.”
“A Walking Disaster” is available Jan. 14, 2019. For additional information, visit www.templetonpress.org/books/walking-disaster.
About Dr. Jamie D. Aten
Dr. Jamie D. Aten has researched, trained and/or mobilized church leaders through disasters in 11 different countries, including major hurricanes, floods and tornados, the Ebola crisis in 2014, the Kenyan and Syrian refugee crisis, and the Japan tsunami, earthquake and nuclear plant meltdown in 2011, amongst others. Dr. Aten received the Community Preparedness Champion Award from FEMA at the White House for his work with faith communities and faith-based organizations. He is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College, which is the first faith-based academic research center in the country. For information, visit www.jamieaten.com.