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Why Psychological First Aid?

March 1, 2016

Psychological First Aid was developed to assist people in the aftermath of disasters. When we trained our staff in this approach a few weeks ago, some wondered why we were training our staff to respond to disasters. After all, most days we are usually dealing with young people who sometimes get dysregulated, frustrated and avoidant. There are very few disasters here.

Or are there? When a house falls on someone in an earthquake or a gas main explosion levels of residential street, we generally do not blame the people affected by these events. We provide safety and comfort, we assess their current needs and concerns, we provide practical assistance, we connect them with social support, and we help them cope.

When our kids struggle with life’s challenges, death of a loved one, breaking up with their first love, witnessing domestic violence, they may have extreme emotional and behavioral reactions. These reactions are linked to a history of abuse like insults and neglect, domestic and community violence. But often when young people struggle, instead of first aid, we meet them with punishment, criticism, shame and blame.

This is not to say that young people should not be held accountable for their behavior when they are upset and emotionally dysregulated. But what they most need is first aid in managing overwhelming emotions associated with life’s challenges. Meeting young people with a supportive, helpful stance is crucial to stabilization, learning, recovery and accountability.

— Brian Farragher, Executive Director, Hanna Boys Center