In this article I want to talk about an important work and responsibility of a professional of Psychology: psychological first aid. And sadly there is a reason to do it…
The recent tragedy in Paris has moved the world.
Faced with these situations, we all feel powerless, unable to explain or understand an event as dramatic as it is absurd.
Social networks are a cry of bewilderment and perplexity, where intense and violent emotions are expressed that try to face pain and confusion.
But… there, in the tragedy, we can also admire how some of the best qualities of the human being emerge categorically: solidarity, piety, empathy, altruism.
We have all been able to observe how, after the first moments of confusion, the first citizen responses emerged, encouraging coordinated actions to help and attenuate the effects of the drama. Group cohesion became strong and initiatives almost immediately germinated, such as #PorteOuverte (open door), an action on social networks that made it easier to “open the door” of private homes to anyone who urgently needed refuge. Or the rapid action of Parisian taxi drivers who have transported free of charge anyone who needed it.
It is admirable, and undoubtedly paradoxical: the best of the human being appears when the human being himself does the worst.
Of course, at a professional level, all the protocols and action strategies are implemented.
In a city like Paris, where these terrorist attacks have taken place, the social and institutional response is imminent.
Although the first moments are chaotic and disconcerting, at the level of intervention, everything is ready. Many professionals are trained and prepared to act in crisis situations and emergencies of this type: firefighters, doctors, army, police and also… psychologists.
A whole organization of specialists are coordinated to act in an extraordinary way in the face of extraordinary events.
They are heroes in these situations. Professionals who, in spite of their preparation, training and disposition, are still citizens, people who have also been attacked at that time. They must do an admirable exercise of containment and emotional regulation, in order to offer the professional attention that the victims need, in order to minimize their physical and psychological damages.
In these crisis and emergency situations, one of these specialists, the psychologist, has a clear mission:
They are the first psychological attention that victims receive: the Psychological First Aid that is applied in the first 72 hours after the traumatic impact.
Objectives of Psychological First Aid
Reduce the level of stress caused by the traumatic event, in this case the terrorist attacks.
Encourage people to adapt in the short, medium or long term after the events.
To help strengthen the coping strategies of the victims and those affected.
Where are Psychological First Aid applied?
When dealing with situations considered as massive emergencies, Psychological First Aid can be applied in the centres that are established for the reception of family members and those affected or centres for regrouping or emergencies, even in the same place where the attacks have taken place. Psychologists will try to find a calm and comfortable environment for people within the initial chaos where disorientation is the protagonist.
What does the psychologist do in Psychological First Aid?
Promote physical and emotional security.
Provide calm and tranquility to the person who has just experienced this traumatic event.
Connect him with his personal support network.
Favour psychological coping processes.
How do you do it?
How does a psychology professional deal with the application of these psychological first aids?
As soon as the events happen and the psychologist begins his work, he starts and collects information on the situation and works with the other professionals who are on the spot, adapting to the emergency plan established by those responsible for the intervention, to coordinate their actions as quickly as possible.
After planning how to intervene, the psychology professional, in this type of mass emergency, must have a great concentration at work, since our own reactions will give the victim information about the control of the situation, we must maintain and contain our own emotions, since people serve as “thermometer of the situation”, our calm and security at work is the seed of which germinates the feeling of control in the victim and the perception that professionals have everything under control. The key is to provide certainty and support in these situations of uncertainty.
This concentration of the professional is not usually easy, in cases like this one in Paris or in the attacks in New York, it is not known if the attack has finished or that it is happening exactly in those moments, which logically can produce a state of alert or fear, a normal reaction in all people, of course also in the professionals.
Phases in Psychological First Aid Intervention
The psychologist intervenes in the first place with the people who, in his or her opinion, need it most urgently, who are almost always the most vulnerable groups such as minors and people with disabilities or the elderly. In a non-intrusive way, a first contact with the victims is initiated, informing them of who they are and what their function is: to ensure that they adequately manage the physical and emotional difficulties derived from the accident.
After verifying that the victims have basic needs covered such as food, shelter or medical attention, an important function in these moments is to generate security and emotional relief, providing them if they need physical contact (hugging them, holding their hand…).
As far as possible, the victim is emotionally stabilised, talking to her in such a way that she quickly perceives that they are taking care of her well-being. The feelings, out of control at that time, are readjusted when someone is perceived to be taking care of you (enhance the feeling of protection).
The victim’s immediate needs are then investigated (where to sleep, identification of personal effects, such as returning home, even reporting a death) and practical assistance is sought.
It is facilitated as soon as possible that the victim connects with his family and social network (family, friends …).
Finally, the psychologist will inform and provide the “psychological tools” necessary for the victim to be able to face those first moments or even days (to inform so that he understands how his emotional evolution will be, self-care techniques, emotional regulation…). They are also informed of where they can go if they feel bad or unable to control their emotional malaise.
The role of the psychologist in situations of massive emergencies is important at the critical moment immediately after the accident, in what we call psychological first aid; to cushion as far as possible the psychological impact that a tragedy like the one in Paris can cause in people. This role implies serenity, professionalism, specialized training and a great, great vocation for service. Of all the professionals who devote ourselves to psychology, perhaps it is our emergency colleagues who, in the shortest time and under the most difficult conditions, help people in the most efficient way.