Mental Health Psychotherapy

Essential Guide to Psychological First Aid (PFA): The Lifeline in Times of Crisis

Table of Content

In moments of crisis, the right words and actions can be a lifeline. That's where Psychological First Aid (PFA) steps in, offering a beacon of support for those navigating the stormy seas of emotional and psychological turmoil. Welcome to our guide, where we unravel the core principles and practical steps of PFA, transforming you into a pillar of strength for those in need.

Imagine PFA as your toolkit for crisis intervention—rooted in empathy, respect, and unwavering support. We're here to guide you through the essentials: connecting with those affected, providing a listening ear without judgment, and extending a helping hand to ensure safety and comfort. It's about moving beyond words to actions that resonate with care and understanding.

Psychology First Aid: Action Principles

What is Psychological First Aid (PFA)?

Psychological first aid, or PFA, is a humane initial disaster response intervention offered to fellow human beings in need of support. It aims to promote safety, stabilize disaster survivors, and respond to the psychosocial needs of individuals and families suffering the impacts of disaster and terrorism.

It can be offered to first responders and other disaster relief workers. One of the most important principles of psychological first aid is to address the immediate needs and concerns of individuals affected by a disaster rather than offer on-site therapy.

What Is It Not?

The action principles of PFA do NOT include:

  • Offering psychological debriefing
  • Asking about the details of traumatic experiences
  • Treatment of the affected individuals
  • Diagnosing of any kind
  • Something only professionals can do

Who Needs PFA?

Anyone experiencing the aftermath of a crisis event can benefit from PFA. This includes:

  • Individuals directly impacted: People who have been injured lost loved ones, witnessed trauma, or faced extreme stress.
  • Responders and support workers: Emergency personnel, healthcare professionals, and volunteers who may experience secondary stress from helping others.
  • Families and communities: All those affected by the event, even indirectly, can face emotional and social challenges.

When Do You Provide PFA?

PFA is most effective immediately after a crisis event, during the acute phase of distress. This includes the initial hours, days, and weeks following a disaster, accident, act of violence, or any other overwhelming experience. However, PFA can also be beneficial later on if individuals experience delayed emotional responses or need additional support. Remember, PFA is not a one-time intervention; it's an ongoing process that can be adapted to meet changing needs throughout the recovery journey.

Where Do You Provide PFA?

PFA can be provided in various settings wherever someone may be experiencing distress. This includes:

  • Crisis hotlines: Offering immediate support over the phone.
  • Emergency shelters: Providing a safe space for basic needs and emotional support.
  • Hospitals and clinics: Offering care to individuals experiencing physical or psychological trauma.
  • Community centers: Providing a familiar and accessible environment for support groups and individual assistance.
  • Even in homes or workplaces: PFA can be offered by trained individuals in familiar and comfortable environments.

Basic Components of Psychological First Aid

Based on the research on risk and resilience, field experience, and expert opinions, the following elements have been considered as the five basic components of psychological first aid. These components need to be the major focus while delivering PFA:

  • Offering the assurance of safety: While delivering PSA, mental health, and disaster response, workers need to communicate in a way so that the ones in distress understand that the stressful situation is over. To do that, they can also shield the distressed person from the scene while assuring them of their safety. To reinforce their sense of safety, the disaster response personnel can show them what steps have been taken to control the situation.
  • Calm the patient: Ensuring that the patient stays calm is crucial while responding to them. The disaster response workers need to speak and act calmly to show the patient that they are in a safe place now. Some techniques that the workers can use to calm down are taking a deep breath, holding it in for four counts, and then letting it out slowly. This can also be used to calm the patient.
  • Promoting self and collective efficacy: Self-efficacy can be fostered among the patients by helping them participate actively in their own rescue. Encouraging them and reminding them of their strengths can boost their ability to care for themselves as well as their companions in distress. Moreover, it will also help them to cope with the trauma, overcome their feeling of helplessness, and be a part of the team.
  • Promoting a sense of connectedness: Fostering connection helps the patients effectively tap into the social support surrounding them. It can be done by building a rescue partnership with the patient as well as connecting them with their loved ones.
  • Create hope: The individuals suffering due to the disaster may lose hope and feel helpless. Hence, it is essential to assure them that the current situation may look dark and grim, but it will get better. Giving them positive and accurate facts about the event can help.

PFA Action Principles: What Are They?

PFA is about helping people in distress and ensuring they receive immediate basic requirements, services, and support. Four action principles of psychological first aid lay down the way to approach people in need and help them fulfill that need.

1. Prepare

  • Crisis situations can be tumultuous and chaotic hence, it is advised to be prepared.
  • Before you enter a crisis site, try to gather accurate information about the event in question.
  • Note down and keep a book handy in which you have written down services and help providers’ contact details. This book would also help you track down the identities of victims and note down their important information.
  • Equip yourself with safety and security concerns. This will not only keep you safe but also be an effective help for others.

 Its principle:

  • Learn about the crisis event
  • Learn about the available services
  • Learn about safety and security concerns
PrepareBefore you enter a crisis site, know and learn about the following: -
The Crisis Event



  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • How many and who are affected?
Available Services



  • Who is providing for basic needs (emergency medical care, food, shelter)?
  • When and where can people access services?
  • Who is helping, including community members?
Safety and Security



  • Is the crisis over or ongoing (aftershocks, fighting)?
  • What dangers may be in the environment?
  • Are there places to avoid due to insecurity or because it is not permitted to be there?

2. Look

  • Crisis situations can change rapidly
  • What you have to do there may be different from what you learned before
  • Do a quick scan to look around before offering help
  • Be calm
  • Be safe
  • Think before you act

Its principle:

  • Check for safety
  • Check for people with obvious urgent basic needs
  • Check for people with serious distress reactions
  • Scan for dangers
  • Be there only if you can keep yourself and others safe.
  • If you are unsure of your safety, don’t enter that place.
  • Communicate from a safe distance.
People with obvious urgent basic needs
  • Is anyone critically injured?
  • Does anyone need a rescue?
  • Does anyone have obvious needs? (e.g., clothes, blanket, food, water)
  • Who may need help to access services or to be protected?
  • ow your role
  • Try to obtain help for people who need special assistance
  • Refer critically injured people for care.
People with serious distress·How many and where are they?


·Is anyone extremely upset, immobile, not responding to others, or in shock?

Consider who can benefit from PFA and how best to help them.

3. Listen

Its principle:

  • Approach people who may need support
  • Ask about people’s needs and concerns
  • Listen to people and help them feel calm
Make contact
  • Approach respectfully
  • Introduce yourself by name & organization
  • Ask if you can provide help.
  • Help the person feel comfortable (water, blanket)
  • Try to keep them safe.
Ask about needs & concerns
  • Although some needs are obvious, always ask
  • Find out a person's priorities – what is most important to them.


Listen & help people feel calm



  • Stay close to the person.
  • Do not pressure them to talk.
  • Listen in case they want to talk
  • If very distressed, help them feel calm & make sure they are not alone


4. Link

  • Help people help themselves and regain control of their situation.
  • Find accurate information before helping.
  • Keep updated
  • Make sure people, especially vulnerable individuals, are informed of where and how to access services.
  •  Do not make up information; say only what you know.
  • Keep messages simple and accurate. Repeat often.
  • Give the same information to groups to avoid rumors.
  • Explain the source and reliability of the info you give.
  • Let them know when/where you will update any future information.

Are you looking for Psychology First Aid treatment? Call us to book an appointment with our counselor or mental health professional.

Its principle:

  • Help people address basic needs and access services
  • Help people cope with problems
  • Give information
  • Connect people with loved ones and social support
Basic Needs What needs do they request? 

  • What services are available?
  • Don’t overlook the needs of vulnerable or marginalized people
  • Follow up if you promised to do so
Help People Cope with Problems
  • Help them prioritize urgent needs (what to do first)
  • Help them identify supports in their life
  • Give practical suggestions on how they can meet their needs (e.g., registering for food aid)
  • Encourage them to cope better; this will help them feel better.


Social Support



  • Keep children with their caregivers and families together.
  • Help them contact their friends and loved ones.
  • Provide them with religious support. (e.g., Holy books, etc.)
  • Make sure people know how to access services.


Rules to be Followed When Providing PFA

While providing PFA, remember these key principles:

  • Prioritize safety: Ensure the physical and emotional safety of yourself and the individual receiving help.
  • Listen actively: Show compassion and avoid judgment, allowing them to express their emotions freely.
  • Be respectful and culturally sensitive: Acknowledge their individual experiences and cultural background.
  • Offer support, not advice: Avoid suggesting solutions or telling them what to do. Instead, offer practical assistance and connect them with appropriate resources.
  • Set boundaries: Be clear about your limitations and know when to seek professional help.
  • Focus on coping and resilience: Help them identify their strengths and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Empowering Resilience: Closing Thoughts on Psychological First Aid at Cadabams

As we conclude our journey through Psychological First Aid, it's vital to remember that PFA is more than just a set of actions—it's a philosophy of compassion, support, and resilience. By prioritizing safety, offering a listening ear, and connecting individuals with the resources they need, we can make a profound difference in the lives of those facing crises. Let's carry forward the principles of PFA, encouraging strength and hope in times of need.

Feeling inspired to make a difference or seeking support for yourself or someone you know? Cadabams Hospitals is here to help. With a dedicated team of mental health professionals and a compassionate approach, we're ready to offer the support and guidance needed for those facing psychological distress. Reach out to Cadabam's Hospitals today to book an appointment and embark on a path towards healing and resilience. Together, we can navigate the challenges and move towards a brighter future.


1. What are the 3 action principles of psychological first aid?

Ans. The principles of Psychological first aid offer guidance on how an individual can be supported during times of crisis or trauma. There are 4 principles of psychological first aid. They go as follows: Prepare, Listen, Look, and Link. These together form the action principles of psychological first aid. 

2. What are the 5 components of psychological first aid?

Ans. The 5 components of psychological first aid are:

  • Offering assurances of safety
  • Calm the patient
  • Promoting self and collective efficacy
  • Promoting a sense of connectedness
  • Create Hope

3. How do you apply emotional first aid?

Ans. Psychological First Aid, or Emotional First Aid, is necessary to help individuals who have faced a disaster, trauma, or any other drastic life event. Psychological First Aid is applied based on four principles. It includes Preparation, Listening to the individual, Looking and understanding, and linking the individual to the nearest help you can find.

 4. What is psychological first aid?

Ans. Psychological First Aid, or PFA, is an initial response intervention offered to individuals who need help. It aims to provide safety, stability, and help to survivors of various disasters and is guided by the four principles of Psychological First Aid. 

5. Why do we need emotional first aid?

Ans. In any disaster, individuals face two kinds of injuries. One is the physical injury visible on the surface, while the other is emotional or psychological trauma. Psychological First aid or emotional first aid aims to meet the immediate psychosocial needs of individuals or families who have faced disaster.

6. Describe psychological first aid.

Psychological first aid is humane and supportive care for those in crisis. It offers comfort, helps manage stress, and connects people to resources for recovery.

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