Watch the pre-recorded lesson below.
What is Psychological First Aid (PFA)?
Psychological First Aid is a supportive intervention approach for the immediate aftermath of traumatic events or large-scale crises.
It is an evidence-based approach designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short and long term adaptive functioning and coping.
The three aims of Psychological First Aid include:
- Preserve the life of the individual
- Promote the recovery of the individual using the PFA framework – Look, Listen and Link
- Prevent further deterioration of the individual’s condition
Psychological First Aid is humane, supportive, and renders practical assistance to fellow human beings who have recently suffered exposure to serious stressors, and involves:
- Non-intrusive, practical care and support
- Assessing needs and concerns
- Helping people to address basic needs
- Listening, but not pressuring people to talk
- Comforting people and helping them to feel calm
- Helping people connect to information, services, and social support
- Protecting people from further harm
PFA is not:
- Something only professionals can do
- Professional counseling
- Psychological Debriefing. This term refers to a specific type of intervention in which people who have recently suffered a crisis event are asked to briefly but systematically recount their perceptions, thoughts, and emotional reactions to the event. PFA is recommended by the World Health Organisation and many expert groups as the alternative to psychological debriefing
- PFA is not asking people to analyze what happened or put time and events in order
Although PFA involves listening to people, it is important not to pressure people to talk or tell their experiences if they do not want to.
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) pyramid show the place of PFA in the framework of overall mental health and psychosocial response after a crisis event.
The bottom layer of the pyramid shows the need for basic services and security, which need to be delivered in a safe and socially appropriate way so as not to undermine people’s well-being.
In the next layer above, many people will likely need interventions that strengthen community and family support.
As we move up the pyramid, some people will need focused, non-specialized support. This includes basic mental health care and basic emotional and practical support such as PFA.
At the top of the pyramid, only a minority of people will need clinical support, which consists of medicine, psychotherapy, and counselling and which typically involves care by a primary health care clinician or mental health professional.
This is why your role as Psychological First Aider is so important. As a psychological first aider, you help prevent the individual from slipping into a downward spiral leading them to clinical depression or other mental health illnesses.
As you provide support towards these individuals who are in distress, this creates an upward spiral effect. Over a period of time, these individuals would feel do better as they:
- Feel safe, connected to others,
- Feel calm and hopeful
- Have access to social, physical and emotional support
- Regain a sense of control by being able to help others
In a study on resilience by Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, it was found that the more positive emotions people felt, the more they are able to bounce back and avoid depressive symptoms.
These individuals are also more resilient, hopeful, connected, and can draw other people closer despite feeling some negative emotions.
Providing care and support in the immediate aftermath of a disaster can be an enriching professional and personal experience. It can also be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Therefore, it is important to start with caring for ourselves first.
The following are the warning signs that an individual feels emotionally-exhausted or burned out.
- You have disturbed sleep, eating, or concentration.
- You isolate yourself from family and friends.
- You fail to take regularly scheduled breaks.
- You enjoy your work less than you did in the past.
- You find yourself bored, disinterested, or easily irritated.
- You have experienced recent life stressors such as illness, personal loss, relationship difficulties, financial problems, or legal trouble.
- You feel emotionally exhausted or drained after meeting certain individuals
Make adequate time for yourself and integrate self-care into your daily life.
- Learn a new skill or pick up a hobby
- Exercise regularly
- Practice journaling
- Don’t isolate yourself
Thank you for joining us in this first session.