5 Principals of Psychological First Aid

First aid symbol being handed from one to another

By Sheryl Cowling

 

What comes to mind when you think of First Aid? A bandage, splint, or CPR? These are all good examples of strategies that may help someone who is hurting physically.

 

But what about those hurting psychologically?

 

Psychological First Aid (PFA) is similar, in that there are strategies that trained helpers can use to render aid to someone who is hurting emotionally, especially in light of a major crisis, such as COVID-19.  However, anyone can do their part to help others feel less anxious and afraid by considering the evidence-informed principles of PFA.

 

The principles of PFA include:

 

#1. Safety. We all have the basic need to be and to feel safe. A pandemic can shake one’s sense of safety to the core. So, what are some ways to help increase a sense of safety? Review factual information based on reliable sources. Downplay rumors or misinformation designed to instill fear or even panic. Perhaps you could assist someone by making sure his or her basic needs are met. Perhaps help them obtain needed groceries, toiletries, or prescriptions. Could you help them apply for any programs that assist with rent or mortgage relief? If home is not safe due to domestic abuse or child abuse or animal abuse, discretely connect them to resources such as a domestic abuse shelter, child protective services, or animal welfare agency for a pet.

 

#2. Calming. Be a source of emotional comfort and soothing. Talk calmly about worries and fears related to COVID -19. Remind people of coping strategies such as exercising, distraction, laughter. Ask what the other person would like you to pray about on their behalf, and then pray! Share Bible passages that remind us to trust in our good and loving God at all times, and especially in times of trouble. Then, change the topic to something lighter. Talk about a happy memory. Look at favorite photos and talk about the stories behind the pictures. Tell a silly joke. Practice taking long, slow, deep breaths together. Listen to soothing music. Go outside and get some fresh air and sunlight if possible.

 

#3. We can practice social distancing together. Use all or some of the amazing forms of technology to stay connected. Call, text, post, tweet, and email family and friends. Make an old-fashioned handmade card and send it in the mail. Check on your neighbor. Join an on-line Bible study or an on-line social group that shares a common interest or hobby.Also, consider calling an emotional support hotline if needed.

 

#4. Self and Community Efficacy. Everyone has strengths and God-given talents and abilities. Ask others about their unique gifts, and then be creative! If someone is gifted musically, ask them to compose an inspiring song or give an impromptu performance. If someone is a great cook, encourage him or her to make food to share with others. If possible, volunteer to help others. Perhaps you can deliver meals, tutor a student who is struggling, walk an elderly neighbor’s pet. You get the idea. Go be a blessing. Making someone else feel better is one of the fastest and best ways to make yourself feel better.

 

#5. Hope. It is amazing what someone can get through if they believe that better days are ahead, and that God is with them! Think about the well-known “Footprints in the Sand” poem by Margaret Fishback Powers that reminds us how God carries us in our times of greatest need. This image brings much peace and inspiration during times of distress. Jesus will always carry us on his big shoulders during tough times, including pandemics. Remind others of God’s wonderful promises, including his “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11). Encourage people to think about how they have weathered other tough times in life. Then encourage them to repeat some of those strategies in the present. Ultimately, be the reminder to others that God is in control, loves them, will provide for them, and has good plans for them.

 

As is the case with First Aid, if someone who is physically hurt needs more care than you can offer, get him or her to a professional medical provider. So too, if someone who is hurt emotionally needs more care than Psychological First Aid, you can help them to get the needed services of a professional mental health provider.

 

Christian Family Solutions is available with over 100 mental health professionals, trained in providing telehealth.  To learn more about our video counseling services, please click here. You can also get to know our counselors by visiting our “Meet Our Providers” page. Please click on each provider’s picture to read their bio and watch their video bio. Appointments with our counselors can easily be requested online through our Request an Appointment page.