Psychological First Aid Quick Guide

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Quickly identify those who are most distressed

Every person will have a different reaction to the traumatic event. Not everyone will be acutely distressed. However, those showing signs of being disoriented, confused, frantic, agitated, shaky, or withdrawn/”shut down” are showing signs of shock and may need more support. The remedy for shock is time and safety. You cannot talk people out of being in shock, but with a compassionate approach, you can help them function through it.

Those who have been more closely exposed to grotesque injury, threat of life, or have experienced recent prior traumas (death of a loved one, assault, disaster) are more at risk of becoming acutely distressed.

Step One – Make a Connection

  • Establish a human connection using a calm and compassionate manner. Speak slowly, introduce yourself, tell them that you are checking to see how they are doing, ask permission to speak with them for a few minutes.
  • Always seek permission when asking them to do anything. It helps restore a sense of control.
  • Offer some basic concrete resources: water, a seat, a private area away from stimulation.
  • Interact at their level. (If they are seated, sit beside them, etc.) Remind them they are in a safe place.
  • If they are agitated, ask if you can do some breathing exercises with them. Encourage them to breathe in and out deeply and slowly. Do this together.
  • There doesn’t have to be a dialogue. Sometimes just being present and tranquil allows trust to develop.

Step Two – Connecting with Significant Others

Help those impacted communicate their immediate needs and concerns to you; ask if there is something right now that they need. Listen carefully to what they say to learn how you can be of specific help to them.

  • Identify and connect them to their significant others (loved ones, friends, neighbors) via phone as soon as possible.
  • Connect them with other employees and managers in a designated safe place when they are ready to do so.

Step Three – Connecting with Resources

Communicate that additional steps are being taken and that supportive services will be offered (i.e. a plan is being put in place).

  • ŸCommunicate what is currently known about the unfolding event and response activities (e.g. transportation to a private and safe area, availability of supplies, counselors and clergy will be arriving to offer additional support, etc.).
  • ŸBe available to listen. Keep the focus on safety; do not engage in detailed discussion about what happened.

Step Four – Coping Skills

Acknowledge their efforts to cope and to help others. Acknowledge their strengths.

  • Reframe complaints into concerns that can be overcome.
  • Normalize reactions and provide a sense of hope.
  • Provide information to help survivors cope effectively with the psychological effects of trauma and resources for ongoing support. (“Fostering Resilience” handouts for survivors and their families/loved ones can be found on the PAS website.)
  • Link survivors with other community resources, social support and employer-sponsored support services.
  • ŸAsk if you can contact them later to see how they are doing.


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