What is Psychological First Aid?
The World Health Organization notes PFA “involves humane, supportive and practical assistance for people who are distressed, in ways that respect their dignity, culture, and abilities.”
Several weeks before Hurricane Harvey, I happened to be at my daughter’s school learning about disaster preparedness. As the principal went through all the things our Southern California school has ready—such as food and water in case students are stranded by an earthquake—he mentioned a tent for a psychological first aid area. I’d never heard of psychological first aid (PFA) before, though it’s a term you probably know if you are a teacher, social worker or in the medical field. The World Health Organization notes PFA “involves humane, supportive and practical assistance for people who are distressed, in ways that respect their dignity, culture, and abilities.”
Now that Harvey has wrought such destruction, it felt more urgent to learn about PFA. For this week’s Healthy Habit, let’s look at some of the concepts of PFA so that even if we aren’t formally trained, we can offer a tiny bit of comfort when disaster strikes.
Listen At the core of psychological first aid, there are three principals: Listen, Protect and Connect (source: ready.gov). If you’re talking with someone who has been through a traumatic incident, be there to listen, and also listen for risk factors. These include losing a pet, losing a friend, loss of a home, getting hurt or sick as a result of the event, or observing death. If so, this person may professional help from a counselor, doctor or psychologist. Are there ways you can support them in that?
Protect. Rather than brushing away someone’s concerns or fears, as “that’s all over now,” validate their experiences. Stay calm and compassionate. Know that sometimes, silence is okay—you don’t have to keep prattling on. Just be with them.
Connect. Check in with the person on a regular basis to listen, provide resources or do shared activities.
FEMA has a guide, “Listen, Protect, Connect: Family to Family, Neighbor to Neighbor”. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed a free six-hour interactive course, available for continuing education credits and non-credit professional development. It features innovative activities, video demonstrations, and mentor tips from the nation’s trauma experts and survivors.