Learn Psychological First Aid With This Practical Guide

Learn to manage the emotions of others in an emergency.

The approach to first aid in the health field has a long history and evolution in recent times. Not so psychological first aid, a more recent term that is increasingly used as the importance of a situation with a certain emotional impact is recognized for the person.

Anyone can be affected (as a victim or witness) by a natural disaster, accident or terrorist act of a certain magnitude. This is why it is essential to have at least some minimum guidelines for action, ideally including these contents in the educational context or, failing that, to carry out specific training in order to have effective intervention tools.

  • Recommended article:  “Guide to know how to give emotional first aid”

Phases of a traumatic crisis

There are several phases of a traumatic crisis: impact, reaction and post-event. However, we will focus in this article on the first phase, perhaps the most relevant within psychological first aid because it is the first. It has the following characteristics:

  • It is the phase that happens immediately after the traumatic experience and can last for several minutes, hours or even a few days.
  • The person is usually emotionally upset, with a limitation when thinking or acting. There is also a loss of sense of time and reality (feeling that it is not happening) and reactions that range from hyper activity (walking without stopping in a certain direction) to immobility or paralysis.

Intervention with the affected person

  • First of all, the intervener must identify himself, ask the victim by name and let him know that he is there to help him.
  • It is of crucial importance to remove the victim from danger if that is the case.
  • The intervener must remain calm and also transmit it, since it will serve as a model in front of the victim (or victims). In addition, he will try to rationalize the action and in the event that the situation overcomes him, request the relief if it is feasible.
  • Regarding verbal communication, it is convenient to speak with a serene tone, calmly, giving clear and concise information, avoiding inappropriate comments for that situation and with an attitude of active listening.
  • Non-verbally, you have to maintain contact and adopt a comfortable but attentive posture.
  • Equally important is providing basic needs: water, food, blankets, etc. Also allow the victim’s emotion to flow by combining this action with others such as distraction to avoid continued attention to what has happened.
  • A separate issue and in many cases of equal relevance, is to avoid the curious / as. Sometimes it is useful to give these people tasks to help in the process and facilitate greater privacy for the victims.

Bad news communication

This is an important task within  psychological first aid and although the information will harm the person who receives it, the good or bad performance of the intervener in this communication may minimize or maximize the psychological impact of the person who receives it.

It should be known that there are factors that will determine the degree of impact of the bad news, such as the personality of the recipient, the existence of previous losses, the relationship with the victim or the predictability or unpredictability of the bad news.

On the other hand, it is relevant to distinguish in the action protocol three phases within this communication:

1. Before starting the conversation

  • If possible, establish which person is most qualified to  deliver the bad news.
  • The issuer or intervener must have all the necessary information about what has happened, at what time and place, person or persons affected, etc.
  • Of vital importance is to have the identity of the victim or deceased persons confirmed.
  • Adequate physical spaces must be available with the necessary instruments and elements (water, tissues, etc.).

2. During the information

  • Whenever possible, the information should be given only once to the family, in order to avoid giving it several times, something that increases the impact.
  • The intervening person introduces himself and asks the family member if he knows the reason for which he has been called.
  • The message must be short, avoiding excessive length, understandable and delicately, explaining what has happened, the people affected and their condition. You will always avoid giving false hopes or incorrect information.
  • From this moment on, different reactions will appear: crying, disbelief, silences, screaming …) that must be allowed.
  • If no information is requested and there is more than one family member, the person who gives the news withdraws and allows family expression, remaining in the background although attentive.

3. After communicating the bad news

  • Family members should not be left alone, if withdrawn.
  • Show empathy for reactions and cover basic needs.
  • Offer other sources of support.
  • Finally, analyze how the situation has affected the person involved.

Final advice

As we can see, it is essential to have action protocols in the face of normally unforeseen events that, due to their consequences, lead to emotional pain in victims and families.

As we alluded to at the beginning of the article, given the importance that both professionals and people not related to the health field (any of us can witness an event of this type) have action tools in this field, training in this area is necessary .

If you want to go deeper, do not hesitate to consult the distance course on psychological first aid that Psychological Training organizes from its website.

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