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Deploying psychological first aid

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Experiencing an emergency or a crisis can be disturbing. Learn how you can help by providing psychological first aid following a disaster.

Individuals involved in disasters and terrorist attacks often experience psychological trauma that needs both immediate and ongoing attention. In addition to getting medical first-aid to individuals, responders can also help administer psychological first aid (PFA). A few features from the VA’s Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide are:

  • Ensure safety first. Physical needs (medical attention, food, and shelter) take priority. Before you begin PFA, assess whether these other needs have been taken care of. Remember to communicate clearly and be compassionate and polite as you come into contact with survivors.
  • Stay calm and spread calm. Be patient and pay attention to survivors, who are often in emotional distress, as they convey their story. If they express confusion, reassure them that their behavior is a natural response to the circumstances and offer healthy ways to cope with it. And make sure that your own emotional and physical reactions are not making the situation worse.
  • Connect with others. Help survivors connect with friends, family members, and other people who can support them. Relationships are invaluable to survivors during traumatic events.
  • Encourage hope. Help calm fears or worries about the future by reminding survivors that help is on the way and will continue to be available in the future as they recover.

For more information, see the “dos” and “don’ts” in this fact sheet from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Also, download the free PFA mobile app, which supplements the PFA Field Operations Guide to help you administer psychological first aid in the field. Online training and videos are also available; see links on the web page linked above. For more information on healthy ways to cope, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.

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