Psychological First Aid

Gender-based violence can be traumatising and can evoke different reactions in different people. Although there are several people in the world who have faced gender-based violence and still continue to do so, the reactions and body responses are not uniform – there are a wide range of feelings, reactions, responses and consequences that people can have. 

Some may respond with fear, overwhelm, confusion or uncertainty, anxiety, numbness or even detachment. Some may have mild reactions, some may have severe reactions – and it depends on a variety of factors, such as:

- The severity and nature of the incident they faced
- Any past incidents they may have faced
- Their support system
- The surrounding cultural environment and social traditions they prescribe to
- Their age and exposure to education
- Their health

People are generally inherently resilient and can cope with challenges, but, when they are vulnerable, have faced trauma or have faced difficult situations, they may need extra help. People who are at risk because of their age, mental or physical disability or because they belong to a group that may be marginalized or targeted may need additional support.

Psychological First Aid, as defined by The Sphere Project (2011) and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (2007), refers to a “humane, supportive response to a fellow human being who is suffering and who may need support.” It involves:
- providing non-intrusive practical care and support
- assessing needs and addresses concerns
- helping people address their immediate basic needs
- listening to people, but not pressuring them to talk
- comforting people and helping them stay calm or to regain composure
- connecting those in need with the right kind of information, services and social support
- protecting the vulnerable person from further harm

Psychological First Aid can be provided by a bystander and does not require professional qualifications. It is not the same as professional counselling or psychological debriefing, and does not involve a detailed discussion of the event that caused the distress. It is also not about asking a person to analyse what had happened to them or to put time and events in order. It simply involves being available to listen to people’s stories and letting them be the masters of their process of sharing.
 
To be effective at delivering Psychological First Aid, the following four things must be remembered:
- Always be respectful and mindful of the individual’s safety, dignity and rights
- Make note of the cultural and traditional background and take it into account while speaking to them.
- Be aware of emergency response measures that are available and where one may avail it.
- Ensure to find a way to take care of yourself, and to ensure that you are not in any way exposed to danger.

While offering Psychological First Aid, the following things must be remembered:
- The person receiving the Psychological First Aid has full right to make their own decisions, so be aware of that and respect that.
- Set aside all your personal biases, prejudices and misconceptions and be a clear listener.
- Be understanding of the situation they are in, and explain the options available to them – if they don’t want help now, they can always be assured that they can seek and access help whenever they need it.
- Be respectful of privacy, confidentiality and integrity. Do not reveal anything they share with you to others. In the event that you must reveal the information if they are in danger, be mindful of their needs, their personal integrity and their privacy.
- Behave in a manner that is appropriate and in line with the person’s culture, age and gender.
- Never exploit your relationship as a helper, do not ask a person for money or for favours for helping them.
- Don’t make tall claims about your skills, and do not assume skills on your part that you are not qualified to have.
- Do not force the person to share, pressure them to speak, or force them to open up. Don’t be pushy, probing or intrusive.
- Try finding a quiet place for them to talk, share or just sit with you.
- Stay near the person, and if they wish for distance, be within an observable distance.
- Always be clear that you are listening, and let them know that, too. Be patient, be calm, do not distract yourself.
- Be honest – you don’t have to offer suggestions, ideas or options when you are not aware of any or are unclear on what options there are. Offer factual information, and acknowledge that you don’t know something, if you don’t know something. Avoid making up things you don’t know.
- Don’t rush the person, don’t interrupt or pressure them to finish up fast. Don’t judge them or poke fun at them.
- Do not touch the person if you are unsure that it is appropriate to do so.
- Do not invoke privilege or guilt-trips to make the person feel better – don’t tell them how to feel or to feel lucky for having survived a situation.

(Adapted from the World Health Organization).

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Reach
Chennai, India