Trauma occurs to people going through life-changing events involving a state of shock, despair, and grief. The American Psychological Association (2016) has defined trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster”. It often gives rise to insurmountable sufferings, feeling of loss and hopelessness coupled with a state of denial, aggression and later on followed by depression (O’ Donell et.al, 2004) in most cases . The most difficult part of surviving trauma is that it makes a person feel wounded inside. These wounds remain invisible to others. Not taking care of psychosocial needs that emerge following traumatic events might lead to more enduring problems in future. Though traumatic events usually have an immediate, mild and transient impact, they also have the potential to impact a person’s mental health to a great extent in the long run. Hence, emotional first-aid is crucial for those who have been through a traumatic event.
Psychological First-Aid as a Response to Traumatic Events
The concept of ‘Psychological First- Aid’ was introduced by the National Centre for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NC-PTSD) in 2006 to provide the survivors of trauma with immediate support and healing process. According to World Health Organization (2011), “Psychological First Aid (PFA) describes a humane, supportive response to a fellow human being who is suffering and who may need support”. It is an immediate, short-term intervention offered to the people soon after they have experienced a very distressing event—either immediately following exposure to a critical event or some days or weeks after, depending on when the helper encounters the person and their needs (Pan American Health Organization, 2012).
Trauma is not a wound that heals on its own over time. Rather it stays with us and might leave behind a profound impact. At such times, Psychological First Aid helps to regain “a sense of emotional and physical safety, feeling protected from the powerful and confronting the force of the traumatic event” (Ruth Wraith, 2014). The scope of helping people who have experienced trauma by applying PFA is broad as it doesn’t require a person to be a mental health professional to provide first-aid as it doesn’t involve the professional counseling or psychological debriefing (WHO, 2016). Given the capacity of traumatic events to produce great immediate distress for the survivors of trauma, Psychological First- Aid can help acknowledge their stress reactions and provide them with strategies to make the recovery process quicker.
Psychological First Aid for Survivors of trauma:
- Ensuring immediate safety: Those involved with Psychological First Aid need to be well-versed with the physical, behavioural, emotional and cognitive symptoms displayed by those who undergo trauma. This can help mobilize immediate support from medical professionals, mental health practitioners or law enforcement officers from the local community for containing and managing distress faced by persons undergoing traumatic experiences. The primary need is that of a feeling of a sense of security, be it secure housing, nutritious food as well as secure and safe environment.
- Helping the person face negative, overwhelming emotions: Dissociation is a coping behaviour often used by the mind to shield oneself from negative feelings and thoughts related to the traumatic experience. Though dissociation helps at primary stage, it can be harmful in the long run. One needs to offer support and patient listening to aid in the confrontation of negative, and overwhelming emotions at such times.
- Retrain the person to relax: It is possible to find peace in an environment filled with chaos. Techniques such as paced breathing, positive affirmations, guided imagery, ground techniques etc. have all been found to be extremely helpful in such situations
- Engaging in creative mediums: Many find it difficult to give vent to their negative experiences of trauma through conversation. Creative-Arts based therapies that involve the use of music, painting, music, dance or writing have been found to be extremely useful in helping survivors of trauma give voice to their suffering through creative expression and turn adversity into art
The journey of recovering from a traumatic event is painful and slow. Having a sensitive, affirmative, patient and supportive listening ear with you in this process can be greatly helpful in this process. At iCALL, our trained and qualified team of counsellors provide a secure, non-threatening space for you to give voice to your hitherto supressed experiences of trauma. Feel free to reach out to us over the phone on 022-25521111 or over email at firstname.lastname@example.org . A single phone call or email may be the first step towards a new chapter in your life!
Hall. W. (2008). First Aid for Emotional Trauma- Information Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.ncmhr.org/downloads/trauma_first_aid_fact_sheet12-08.pdf
Jackson, Kate. 2015. “Beyond Talk–Creative Arts Therapies in Social Work.” Social Work Today 15(3):225. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/mpg/litreviews/Arts-Based-Programs-for-Youth.pdf on 4/10/2016.
Norris, F. H., Friedman, M. J.,Watson, P. J., Byrne, C. M., Diaz, E., & Kaniasty, K.(2002). 60,000 disaster victims speak: Part I. An empirical review of the empirical literature, 1981–2001. Psychiatry, 65, 207–239.
O’Donnell, Creamer. M., and Pattison. P. (2004). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Depression Following Trauma: Understanding Comorbidity, (Am J Psychiatry 2004; 161:1390–1396). Retrieved from http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.ajp.161.8.1390 on 4/ 10/2016.
World Health Organizations (2011). Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers.
Wraith. R. (2014). Psychological First Aid for Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from http://tgn.anu.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Psychological-first-aid-for-children-and-adolescents_0.pdf on 29/9/16.