What is Psychological First Aid?

PFA is an evidence-informed modular approach used by mental health and disaster response workers to help individuals of all ages in the immediate aftermath of disaster and terrorism. PFA is designed to reduce the initial distress caused by traumatic events and to foster short- and long-term adaptive functioning and coping.

PFA does not assume that all survivors will develop mental health problems or long-term difficulties in recovery. Instead, it is based on an understanding that disaster survivors and others affected by such events will experience a broad range of early reactions (e.g., physical, psychological, behavioral, spiritual). Some of these reactions will cause enough distress to interfere with adaptive coping and recovery may be helped by support from compassionate and caring disaster responders.

PFA is designed for delivery by mental health and other disaster response workers who provide early assistance to affected children, families, and adults as part of an organized disaster response effort. These providers may be embedded in a variety of response units, including first responder teams, the ICS, primary and emergency health care, incident crisis response teams, faith-based organizations, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps, the Citizens Corps, and other disaster relief organizations.


  • Establish a human connection in a non-intrusive, compassionate manner.

  • Enhance immediate and ongoing safety and provide physical and emotional comfort.

  • Calm and orient emotionally overwhelmed or distraught survivors.

  • Help survivors tell you specifically what their immediate needs and concerns are, and gather additional information as appropriate. Offer practical assistance and information to help survivors address their immediate needs and concerns.

  • Connect survivors as soon as possible to social support networks, including family members, friends, and neighbors.

  • Support adaptive coping, acknowledge coping efforts and strengths, and empower survivors; encourage adults, children, and families to take an active role in their recovery.

  • Provide information that may help survivors cope effectively with the psychological impact of disasters.

  • When appropriate, link the survivor to another member of a disaster response team or to local recovery systems, mental health services, public-sector services, and organizations.

  • General population shelters

  • Special need shelters

  • Field hospitals and medical triage areas

  • Acute care facilities (e.g., emergency departments)

  • Staging areas or respite centers for first responders or relief workers

  • Emergency operations centers

  • Crisis hotlines or phone banks

  • Mobile dining facilities

  • Disaster assistance service centers

  • Family reception and assistance centers

  • Homes

  • Businesses

  • Other community settings

  • Several Languages- Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Norwegian

  • School personnel (K-12, Colleges)

  • Community Religious Professionals,

  • Medical Reserve Corps member

  • Facilities serving families and youth experiencing homelessness