Providing Psychological First Aid Following a Disaster

Companies with emergency response plans know the importance of having that plan in the event of an emergency. Considerable time and effort went into thoughtfully assessing the types of disasters that could possibly occur and putting different response scenarios on paper. Your safety team conducted a review of your plan, and with a few tweaks, it worked. You think you’re ready, but are you? How resilient will your employees be in the aftermath of a disaster? Does your plan include offering psychological first aid (PFA) to support your employees? If so, have you designated a provider to offer that?

What is Psychological First Aid?

In a nutshell, PFA is a supportive intervention for immediate use in the aftermath of a disaster. It was developed by the National Center for PTSD in 2006 and has since spread to many agencies, governments, and localities throughout the United States and internationally.

PFA is an evidence-informed approach built on the concept of human resilience to help people—from children to adults—in the aftermath of a disaster, act of terrorism, or even a personal crisis. It’s designed to reduce stress symptoms caused by those traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term functioning and coping. It also connects survivors to additional services. It’s understood that survivors affected by those events will experience a broad range of early reactions that can cause enough distress to interfere with coping and recovery.

Your emergency response plan likely includes a compulsory hot wash or critical incident stress debriefing period. While PFA addresses many issues involved in debriefing, it is not debriefing. Nor is PFA counseling. PFA doesn’t rely on skills of a professional mental health provider, but rather, engages the skills that most of us already have. It is used in settings where trauma is found because it is an approach that recognizes reactions and behaviors associated with the stress caused by the traumatic event rather than diagnosis and treatment of it.

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