How to give psychological first aid

Most of us know about first aid. Make sure someone is breathing, stop any major
type of bleeding, and get that person to help. But what about psychological first aid? How do you help someone who is psychologically
struggling? We used to think after a crisis, trauma, or
after someone was in a disaster they needed to debrief, talk about the major details of
the events they had gone through. But research following 9/11 has challenged
most of this thinking has opened us up to a completely new perspective on dealing with
grief and trauma. We now know most people will recovery from
major crises and setbacks on their own. They don’t need professional help. In fact forcing people to debrief and talk
about everything that’s happened might actually hurt them. We also know that those classic stages of
grief that we all used to believe in don’t actually happen. But some people really do struggle after a
crises and for them psychological first aid can be really helpful. Psychological first aid is an approach to
helping people that’s based on scientific evidence. It’s something anyone can do. It’s not a treatment but like first aid it’s
designed to help people become stabilized. Step 1: Safety, stabilize, and comfort. It’s normal to be in shock when you’re in
a crisis. Maybe you’re feeling like you’re out of your
body, or things aren’t real. You want to help the other person feel more
present, there with you. Ask them questions about where they are and
their surroundings. Maybe use some deep breathing to help the
person feel more in control of their breath. Muscle relaxation can also be helpful here. Let the other person know it’s normal to feel
a wide range of emotions, to feel out of control, all this stuff makes sense given the situation
they’re in. We don’t think clearly when we’re hungry or
dehydrated so make sure the person has had food and is drinking water. Step 2: Information and practical help. It’s hard to deal with problems when you’re
emotionally struggling, when you’re in the middle of a crises. So here you want to get information on what
are the challenges the person is facing and help them to overcome them. Maybe they need to book a plane ticket to
get to family or make some types of arrangements to get through the next few days. Or maybe they need to get in contact with
their clergy or spiritual help. This is an opportunity for you to provide
practical support. The other person might not have a good understand
of what’s happened in the middle of this crisis so if you have information about what’s going
on give it to them. Just make sure you don’t ask for details about
the traumatic event the person has gone through. There’s no need for that and remember for
some people that can make them feel worse. Step 3:Socially Connect. The number one thing that helps people heal
from a trauma is connecting with the people they’re close to. That means family, friends, coaches, teachers,
their pets, community leaders, clergy, support groups. When we’re alone, we ruminate, we think about
things over and over again, we don’t get that important reality check that we need from
other people. Getting social support also sets into place
long term support that the person is going to need in the days and weeks to come. Step 4: Encourage coping. Making sure someone is having regular meals,
getting to sleep, and getting regular activity are critical elements of psychological first
aid. You also want to talk about ways people can
deal with the power emotions that come up in these situations, from anxiety to anger. Help people identify ways of coping that work
for them, like listening to soothing music, doing exercise, reconnecting with hobbies,
journaling, watching a movie or TV show that helps them feel better, reading a book that
distracts them for awhile. Step 5: Connect with help. If you’re worried someone is at risk for hurting
themselves, you want to connect them with professional support. Not sure if they’re suicidal? Ask them if they’re having any suicidal thoughts,
this isn’t going to put the idea in their head. Even for people who aren’t at risk for hurting
themselves, if you just mention the idea of going to a counselor or therapist this can
help people down the road if they continue to struggle and do need professional support. If you want to learn more about psychological
first aid, just look at the description below. I put a lot of information in there, even
ways in which you can get trained yourself. Have you ever helped someone through a crisis
and how do you cope with difficult situations? Let me know in the comments below. Be sure to follow The Psych Show on social
media, like us on Facebook, and subscribe on YouTube.


  1. Hi there ! Again, another great and short video !
    First, thanks for the references, it makes the vulgarization more interesting and we can look into things we're interested in more deeply.
    About how we cope with situation, I think all defenses the brain makes are really interesting but at the same time very strange. For example, denial or forgetting memories seems at large scale maybe counter-productive maybe? I personally dissociate myself to the situation in order create the emotional me and the rational, which is a defense I use to help myself or the others with rationates thoughts, optimistic point of views or careful listening.
    On the other, I can't imagine an international psychological first aid, what about you? Cultural interpretation, personal experiences ect… those seems like a lot variables and we end up with a pretty generic first aid kit. But how are we sure this kit will be usable for everyone?

  2. I have a question about debriefing. You mentioned that getting someone to explain the events isn't helpful and we shouldn't push for it, but does that apply even if the person is actively trying to? Like, the other day, a friend of mine called me because they were having a panic attack, and they wanted to walk through the events that led to it, and I listened and let them describe things. Should I have stopped them? I feel like that might be counterproductive too, since it takes away some of the control they're trying to re-establish, but as someone who isn't an expert, I have no idea which would be worse.

  3. I have. I'm grateful that my education within communication arts and creative writing has made me a superb listener. I don't force my ideas or opinions on others as to what they should do. I'm just there, and I think those two words, "be there" are most important because that feeling of being alone is something that takes an already difficult situation and makes it worse. For me I try to surround myself with the people and things that are familiar so that even if I can't necessarily handle the situation, I don't have as much of that "out of body" traumatic feeling. It helps ground me, I think.

  4. Great topic! Thanks Ali! It's often difficult to know how to help others when they have just experienced a crisis and need our help. Will definitely share with my @Mindful-Mastery followers. I also have a blog on HOW to validate someone's feelings when they are emotional here: And a VIDEO CLIP showing Paced Breathing, a Distress Tolerance Skill from DBT here:

  5. Great video! I do CISD's and get positive feedback for being there though sometimes no one takes advantage. I find this is okay though because I am there if they need and if not, no big deal. I still get paid! LOL But seriously, it looks good that the company cares enough to bring someone in when in a crisis. Sometimes people come up and talk to me about their lives in general. This helps them to not think of therapy as a bad thing. I push their EAP for further consideration.

  6. This video is'nt what i expected based on the title. In college, I met two people that seemed like they really needed help. One had so much social anxiety he could barely talk and the other, was a girl who had so much insecurity that she started crying in the middle of class. I wish I could have helped them but I was'nt sure how to, thought it could be rude to ask and I am a bit shy myself. I never asked either of them. So, I am asking you: what do you think I could have done for them?

  7. Please share a sample after debriefing report. What are the information that should be included in report writing? Is there a format that needs to be followed for that or is it free writing?

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