Psychological First Aid Training May Help Improve Care Workers’ Wellbeing

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Psychological First Aid Training May Help Improve Care Workers’ Wellbeing

Jim Windell


           Psychological First Aid (PFA), first developed by the World Health Organization, is the globally recommended training for people, such as healthcare workers, who support others during emergencies.

           Although there are a number of programs or models called Psychological First Aids, PFA has become the flagship early intervention for disaster survivors – starting in the post-9/11 era. While PFA frameworks are proliferating, with increasing numbers of models developed for delivery by a range of providers for use with an expanding array of target populations, the APA contends that there remains a dearth of evidence for effectiveness.

           According to the APA, PFA has been broadly endorsed and widely promulgated by disaster mental health experts in reports from a series of consensus conferences and in the peer-reviewed disaster behavioral health literature. It is also consistently recommended in international treatment guidelines for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and as an early intervention for disaster survivors.

           PFA is not a new intervention. Rather, it is better conceptualized as documenting and operationalizing good common sense – those activities that sensible, caring human beings would do for each other anyway. It is underpinned by five “essential elements” generated from the available research literature by a consensus conference of disaster mental health experts. These five elements are: safety, calming, connectedness, self-efficacy, and hope. The various PFA models adhere to varying degrees to these elements. In relatively simple terms, PFA includes the provision of information, comfort, emotional care, and instrumental support to those exposed to an extreme event, with assistance provided in a step-wise fashion tailored to the person’s needs.

           Although PFA training was originally created for people to support others, scientists from Northumbria University, in the Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K., and the University of Highlands and Islands in Scotland (UHI), in a new study, have now also identified it as a suitable way of helping care workers look after their own mental health and wellbeing.

           As part of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in June, 2020 the U.K. government introduced free to access online PFA training in an effort to support frontline staff – such as the nearly two million people working in care homes across the country.

           The researchers found that while the uptake of PFA training was low among healthcare worker – less than 10% of study participants had done the training – those who had undertaken PFA coped better. The results suggest that PFA training helped in overcoming stress and coping via self-growth and improving relationships with others, but there was a concern around accessibility, which academics say could possibly explain the low uptake of training.

           According to Dr. Marivana Schoultz, the project lead and Associate Professor in Mental Health in Northumbria’s Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, “Findings suggest that PFA training has the potential to strengthen resilience for staff in health and social care; promote anti-stigma messages and normalize help seeking behavior; and minimize the risk of developing more serious psychological problems such as PTSD.”

           Dr. Schoultz went on to say that “We therefore recommend that consideration be given to funding an integrated program of research and development to further develop, implement, and evaluate a co-produced iteration of PFA for use in the UK care home sector and beyond.”

           Some research participants described that PFA helped them cope better when thinking of giving up their job and promoted resilience, with one person commenting: “PFA has helped me cope better, it was a position I was thinking of giving up at one time and now I have the strength to carry on.”

           Others described how it helped support them in their experiences of bereavement to overcome the trauma of the pandemic: “I found it [PFA] useful as it helped me cope with bereavement as well as the experience of seeing relatives affected by COVID-19.” Another participant went so far as to say that PFA training “should be made compulsory for all staff especially in nursing and care homes during the pandemic or not.”

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Schoultz, M., McGrogan, C., Beattie, M., Macaden, L., Carolan, C., & Dickens, G.L. (2022). Uptake and effects of psychological first aid training for healthcare workers’ wellbeing in nursing homes: A UK national survey. PLoS ONE 17(11): e0277062.


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