What is Psychological First Aid?
Psychological First Aid is an evidence-informed modular approach to help children, adolescents, adults, and families in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism. Psychological First Aid is designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping. Principles and techniques of Psychological First Aid meet four basic standards. They are:
1. Consistent with research evidence on risk and resilience following trauma
2. Applicable and practical in field settings
3. Appropriate for developmental levels across the lifespan
4. Culturally informed and delivered in a flexible manner
Psychological First Aid does not assume that all survivors will develop severe mental health problems or long-term difficulties in recovery. Instead, it is based on an understanding that disaster survivors and others affected by such events will experience a broad range of early reactions (for example, physical, psychological, behavioral, spiritual). Some of these reactions will cause enough distress to interfere with adaptive coping, and recovery may be helped by support from compassionate and caring disaster responders.
Who is Psychological First Aid For?
Psychological First Aid intervention strategies are intended for use with children, adolescents, parents/caretakers, families, and adults exposed to disaster or terrorism. Psychological First Aid can also be provided to first responders and other disaster relief workers.
Who Delivers Psychological First Aid?
Psychological First Aid is designed for delivery by mental health and other disaster response workers who provide early assistance to affected children, families, and adults as part of an organized disaster response effort. These providers may be imbedded in a variety of response units, including first responder teams, incident command systems, primary and emergency health care, school crisis response teams, faith-based organizations, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps, the Citizens Corps, and other disaster relief organizations.
When Should Psychological First Aid Be Used?
Psychological First Aid is a supportive intervention for use in the immediate aftermath of disasters and terrorism.
Where Should Psychological First Aid Be Used?
Psychological First Aid is designed for delivery in diverse settings. Mental health and other disaster response workers may be called upon to provide Psychological First Aid in general population shelters, special needs shelters, field hospitals and medical triage areas, acute care facilities (for example, Emergency Departments), staging areas or respite centers for first responders or other relief workers, emergency operations centers, crisis hotlines or phone banks, feeding locations, disaster assistance service centers, family reception and assistance centers, homes, businesses, and other community settings. For more information on the challenges of providing Psychological First Aid in various service settings.
Strengths of Psychological First Aid
Psychological First Aid includes basic information-gathering techniques to help providers make rapid assessments of survivors’ immediate concerns and needs, and to implement supportive activities in a flexible manner.
Psychological First Aid relies on field-tested, evidence-informed strategies that can be provided in a variety of disaster settings.
Psychological First Aid emphasizes developmentally and culturally appropriate interventions for survivors of various ages and backgrounds.
Psychological First Aid includes handouts that provide important information for youth, adults, and families for their use over the course of recovery.
Basic Objectives of Psychological First Aid
Establish a human connection in a non-intrusive, compassionate manner.
Enhance immediate and ongoing safety, and provide physical and emotional comfort.
Calm and orient emotionally overwhelmed or distraught survivors.
Help survivors to tell you specifically what their immediate needs and concerns are, and gather additional information as appropriate.
Offer practical assistance and information to help survivors address their immediate needs and concerns.
Connect survivors as soon as possible to social support networks, including family members, friends, neighbors, and community helping resources.
Support adaptive coping, acknowledge coping efforts and strengths, and empower survivors; encourage adults, children, and families to take an active role in their recovery.
Provide information that may help survivors cope effectively with the psychological impact of disasters.
Be clear about your availability, and (when appropriate) link the survivor to another member of a disaster response team or to local recovery systems, mental health services, public-sector services, and organizations.
American Red Cross Dakotas Region
Resources PFA Online Courses:
Psychological First Aid Course: John Hopkins University Psychological First Aid Course: Supporting Yourself and Others During COVID-19
“ The app provides additional support when the responder is in the field by providing tips on different survivor groups (infant/toddler, preschool, school-age, adolescent, adult) and keeping track of survivor concerns and referral needs.”