Aug 6, 2014
By: Christina Koch, Intern, U.S. Department of Education
Psychological First Aid, also known as PFA, is an intervention model to help people of all ages deal with trauma-related stress. It does not assume that anyone that suffers something traumatic will develop mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders.
There are many different reactions that people can have after an emergency. Sometimes these reactions can lead to distress that can get in the way of proper coping. If needed, PFA can help people cope with their reactions and recover.
PFA’s goals are to establish a human connection in a compassionate way, enhance safety, calm overwhelmed survivors, allow survivors to express their needs, connect survivors to support networks, provide recovery information, and empower survivors.
Trained professionals can give support to help people recover from their reactions. People can become trained on PFA face-to-face or online through a six-hour interactive training. There is also a PFA mobile app that can assist responders.
PFA-S brings this model into schools to help students, staff, and family members. It can be used by anyone who is trained. PFA-S reduces initial distress that is brought on by emergencies and helps people cope and deal with the feelings of fear and trauma.
Whether the emergencies occur on school grounds or off, schools are a crucial and central part of the community. PFA-S is most effective when used directly following an incident or while it is happening, if it is safe. An example of this would be a school lockdown situation.
PFA-S can also identify people who may need additional help, therefore reducing the potential of long-term mental health problems.
People trained to use PFA-S can assist students, family members, school staff, and community members. Any staff member can be trained to deliver PFA-S in schools because PFA-S is not psychotherapy or a mental health intervention. Trained members of a community emergency response team or mental health professionals can also provide PFA-S. Additional training resources for schools can also be found online.
All children should be able to live in safe neighborhoods and attend nurturing schools that provide them with the services and supports that they need to thrive. A cross-agency, comprehensive approach, such as PFA-S, can promote the safety and security of students, families, and entire communities.
Christina Koch is a student at American University, Washington, DC.
The Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students supports the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center, where information on PFA is located.