Introduction to Psychological First Aid

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Understanding Resiliency

The vast majority of people that go through stressful events, including war, will recover well without any special intervention.

How are people affected by the crisis?

Each person reacts differently, even in the exact same circumstances. It depends on several factors, including:

  • The nature and severity of the events they are going through;
  • Personal experience from other crisis events;
  • The kind of support they get from others;
  • The physical health of the person;
  • Personal and family history of mental health issues;
  • Traditions and culture;
  • Age (for example, children of different ages react differently).

Psychological First Aid (PFA):

  • Providing practical care and support without being invasive or overly insistent
  • Assessing needs and concerns
  • Helping people to meet their basic needs (eg food and water, information);
  • Listening to people without forcing them to speak;
  • Consoling people and helping them calm down;
  • Helping people to access information, services and social assistance;
  • Protecting people from other injuries;

What Psychological First Aid  (PFA) is not:

  • It is not something that only professionals can do;
  • It is not professional counselling;
  • It does not involve diagnosis or diagnostic instruments like questionnaires as the PFA does not necessarily enter into detailed discussions regarding the event that caused the suffering (it is not “de-briefing) ;
  • It is not a way to ask someone to analyze what happened to them or to try to organize the sequence of events;
  • Although PFA involves the ability to listen, it has nothing to do with getting people to tell you their feelings and reactions to events;

What to say and do

  • Try to find a quiet place to talk, with as few distractions as possible.
  • Respect privacy and keep the person’s stories confidential
  • Stay close to the person, but keep an appropriate distance based on their age, gender, and culture.
  • If touch is appropriate, touching the shoulder is the least invasive, paying attention if the person gives any sign of withdrawal, in which case stop immediately
  • Show her that you listen to her; for example, nod in the affirmative.
  • Be patient and calm.
  • Provide real information if you have it. Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out this information for you.”
  • Give information in a simple, easy-to-understand way, repetition can also help when people are disoriented
  • Accept how they feel and what they tell you about their loss or important events, such as the loss of a home or the death of a loved one: “I’m really sorry. I imagine how sad this is for you. ”
  • Affirm the person’s strengths and communicate acceptance of weaknesses
  • Be comfortable with staying in silence together

What not to say and not to do

  • Don’t force anyone to tell you what happened to them.
  • Don’t interrupt or rush someone who is talking you  (for example, don’t look at your watch, don’t talk too fast).
  • Do not touch the person unless you are sure that it is appropriate to do so.
  • Don’t judge what they did or didn’t do, or how they feel. Don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that,” or “You should feel lucky to have survived.”
  • Don’t invent what you don’t know.
  • Don’t use jargon or technical language.
  • Don’t tell a person someone else’s story.
  • Don’t talk to them about your problems.
  • Do not make false promises or false assurances.
  • Do not think or act as if you should be the one to take the responsibility to solve the problems of the person for them.
  • Do not overlook the strengths of the person and their need to be able to take care of themselves.
  • Don’t contradict the person or communicate in a negative way (for example, don’t say “it’s not okay to say that”)

How can I calm someone down?

  • Keep a calm and quiet tone.
  • If appropriate, try to maintain eye contact with the person while talking to them.
  • Remind the person that you are there to help them. Remind them that they are safe.

Listening appropriately

  • Address people who may need help.
  • Ask about people’s needs and concerns.
  • Listen to people and help them calm down.

How can I listen to someone? Using:

  • Eyes – giving your full attention to the person being helped.
    • Avoid using your phone while talking to someone.
    • Adapt the non-verbal language to the one in front of you. In case of communication through the translator, look at the person you are addressing and the translator will communicate the message in Ukrainian. You rarely speak.
    • Do not speak through a translator without making eye contact with the affected person.
  • Ears – really listening to their concerns.
    • Don’t force them to talk and listen to them if they want to talk about what happened.
  • Heart – showing that you care and respect them.

Active listening techniques

  • Confirmations: nods, body tilt, eye contact, or expressions such as “tell me more.”
  • Careful silence: “Silence is gold, words are silver.” It is difficult to keep quiet, but when we do, we are able to learn more from the speaker.
  • Important: to observe the speaker’s facial expression, attitude and gestures (protection in case of strong emotions)
  • Paraphrasing: the summary of what he said, precisely to clarify and confirm the correct understanding of what was said.
  • Give the opportunity to speak

Psychological First Aid Manual in English