Psychological First Aid: Practical Guide for Crisis Intervention

Psychological First Aid: Practical Guide for Crisis Intervention

When providing international assistance services, it is essential for our organization to be trained to perform initial interventions that help mitigate the psychological impact that various crisis situations can have on patients, colleagues, and the general community.

The guidelines and techniques presented below are practical instructions, easy to apply, and of minimal complexity that can have a significant positive impact if employed appropriately and at crucial moments during and after a crisis situation.

Introduction to Psychological First Aid

Psychological First Aid (PFA) comprises a series of techniques that can be applied to help people in crisis situations, providing immediate and effective support. This approach focuses on reducing the initial impact caused by traumatic and acute stress-inducing events, which helps facilitate individuals’ adaptation to circumstances and prevents potential long-term psychological consequences.

In What Situations Are Psychological First Aid Used?

PFA is used in a variety of critical and acute stress-inducing situations such as:

  1. Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.
  2. Serious Accidents: Traffic accidents, fires, etc.
  3. Violence: Assaults, domestic violence, terrorism, etc.
  4. Personal Crises: Loss of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious illness, job loss, etc.

In all these situations, affected individuals may experience a range of intense emotions, from fear and anxiety to sadness and anger. PFA is designed to address these emotional responses immediately and effectively.

Practical Guidelines for Applying Psychological First Aid

For those without training in psychology, here are some practical guidelines for applying PFA in crisis situations:

  1. Safety and Protection

    • Ensure the environment is safe: Before intervening, check that there are no imminent dangers to you or the person in crisis.
    • Provide a safe environment: If possible, take the person to a quiet and safe place away from the initial stressor. Psychological intervention is not possible if the danger remains real.
  2. Contact and Empathy

    • Approach calmly and respectfully: Offer your help in a calm and respectful manner. An aggressive approach in the initial intervention is counterproductive.
    • Listen actively: Allow the person to express their feelings and thoughts without interrupting or judging. It is important to let the individual verbalize emotions and sensations as they arise in response to the event without making moral judgments.
  3. Emotional Support

    • Validate their emotions: Assure the person that their reactions are normal given the circumstances.
    • Provide comfort and support: Use comforting words and shows of affection only if appropriate.
  4. Assessment of Needs and Concerns

    • Ask about their immediate needs: This may include basic needs such as water, food, or information about the whereabouts of family members.
    • Evaluate the level of risk: If the person shows signs of danger to themselves or others, seek professional help immediately.
  5. Practical Assistance

    • Provide information: Give clear and precise information about what has happened and the next steps.
    • Help develop a plan: Assist the person in identifying their next steps and how they can access further help if needed.
  6. Connecting with Services and Support

    • Refer to professional resources: If necessary, guide the person to mental health services or other support resources.
    • Encourage social support: Encourage the person to connect with friends, family, or communities that can offer additional support.

Conclusion

Psychological First Aid is an essential tool in early intervention in crisis situations. Through these techniques, non-experts can provide crucial support, helping to mitigate the psychological impact of traumatic events and facilitating the recovery process. Empathy, active listening, and practical support are the pillars of PFA, allowing those affected to feel understood and supported in critical moments.

The initial goal of PFA is to mitigate the emotional/psychological impact of crisis situations on individuals and then direct them to receive the necessary professional help based on the circumstances.

Training as a company in psychological first aid not only improves the quality of our assistance service but also fosters community resilience, increases emergency response capacity, promotes awareness, and encourages psychoeducation in the general population.

Bibliography

  1. World Health Organization (WHO). (2011). Psychological First Aid: Guide for Field Workers.

  2. Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). (2007). IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.

  3. American Psychological Association (APA). (2020). Psychological First Aid (PFA).

These guides and resources provide a detailed and accessible framework for the implementation of Psychological First Aid, offering support to both professionals and individuals without specific training in psychology.

About the author

Jaime Abradelo is a psychologist with three years of experience in psychodynamic psychotherapy and research. During his career, he worked in the Psychology Department of Clínica Nuevo Ser in Colombia, where he provided clinical care to psychiatric patients. Since 2020, he has collaborated as a volunteer in the online platform 7 Cups, providing support in an emotional-psychological crisis line, initially in response to the pandemic.

He has had training in Psychological First Aid (PAP) since 2020 and in the management and follow-up of patients with drug dependence in clinical and outpatient settings, training he acquired in 2021. In the research field, he has been published in the Gaceta Médica de Caracas with the article “Understanding of the Experience of Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Compulsivity” in 2021.

Jaime is currently in private practice and has a deep interest in research, psychotherapy, and psychopathology. He joins this team to share his knowledge and experiences through informative articles that will provide valuable information to readers