Responders must ideally be trained in the essential techniques of psychological first aid (PFA) before they can effectively help others cope with the traumatic effects of a crisis.
WOU’s School of Education, Humanities & Social Sciences (SEHS) lecturer Dr Chong Chew Wuei was speaking on “Psychological First Aid: Helping Each Other during a Crisis’ . About 40 people attended the online public talk jointly organised today by SEHS and the Penang Regional Centre.
He defined PFA as “a way to help people deal with the early reaction to traumatic events”. He said a responder does not need experience or certification but must know the basic techniques. He highlighted that people have a certain natural threshold to cope with crisis and once that is breached, it can lead to clinical depression or other serious consequences, and so the person would then need professional help.
Dr Chong provided five techniques of PFA for a responder/helper– safety; calm; connectedness; efficacy; and hope. The helper should follow the safety SOP regardless of the crisis, meet the person’s basic needs, e.g. food, clothing, shelter, and recommend the use of trusted sources of information.
Next, the responder must be calm themselves before they can help another person. “Speak slowly, maintain an active listening posture, have eye contact and no crossing of arms. When talking about their issue, try to normalise their distress reactions, say it is normal, everyone will experience it. Limit their news intake.”
For connectedness, the responder should encourage the person to have social connections and maintain contacts with friends or loved ones. If needed, they can offer ongoing support or refer the person to suitable NGOs.
Efficacy, he elaborated, is helping the person lead a normal life. “Identify what they can control and cannot control (e.g. interstate travel), and get them to focus on the controllables.” He urged participants to focus on meeting the person’s current needs e.g. finances, and to help set realistic goals, prioritise tasks, and schedule self-care in their daily routine. “Cultural, religious, spiritual routines e.g. prayer, can help,” he added.
Dr Chong said the most important element of PFA is offering hope. “Reassure they are not alone; we are all going through this together. Tell them that the crisis will end, that feeling distress is normal and there is nothing wrong in asking for help. Be kind and show you care. Help the person find something good from the experience. “
He stressed that a responder of PFA must be prepared to help, being equipped with the required information and emotionally ready to offer support. The responder should look out for people with obvious urgent basic needs or with distress reactions (e.g. despair, loss of appetite, numb, confused, crying for no reason, etc), listen, acknowledge the person’s concerns, and link the person to the help, including access to finances or social support.
During Q&A, he said anyone can be a responder and that SEHS is planning to organise training workshops on PFA.