Psychological First Aid Following a Disaster or Terrorism

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and the National Center for PTSD offer a free-to-download Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (Brymer, Jacobs, Layne, Pynoos, Ruzek, Steinberg, Vernberg, Watson, 2006) and specific material pertaining to school-related crises  to facilitate evidence-based responses to disasters and terrorism such as the tragic school shooting at the Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut this morning. After a tragedy such as this, many clinicians and professionals in related fields want to step in and help. While it is important to activate resources to address the needs of those affected, effectiveness of the response will depend on how organized and carefully implemented it is. Well intentioned responses with the wrong approach can actually be harmful to the psychological health of victims (Lililienfeld, 2007).

In the immediate aftermath of such an event, the primary goal is to reestablish a sense of safety. The basic objectives of psychological first aid responders include: (1) establishing a non-intrusive connection with the victims, (2) maintaining safety and providing social support and comfort, (3) providing support to highly distressed victims to help them to regulate their overwhelming emotions, (4) non-instrusively gathering information to learn of victims’ specific needs and concerns, (5) providing ongoing instrumental support and assistance to help address their needs and concerns, (6) helping to connect victims to existing social support networks and resources, and (7) encouraging positive coping strategies (Brymer et al., 2006).

The following are links to helpful information and downloads (in English, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese) available on the NCTSN website:

We send our deepest sympathies to the victims, their families, and all of those affected in and around the State of Connecticut by this violent tragedy. 

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