Jeff Lating, professor of psychology, explores how this tool can reduce anxiety and stress at a crucial time.
My primary research and clinical interests are in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), coronary-prone risk factors and behavioral medicine.
Psychological first aid, referred to as PFA, is designed to help mitigate the psychological impact of traumatic events. An analogue to physical first aid, PFA, which can be done with individuals and groups, is based on a supportive presence that is designed to stabilize and mitigate distress, as well as facilitate access to continued care.
In a randomized controlled trial, my colleagues and I assessed the efficacy of group PFA by comparing the Johns Hopkins psychological first aid model with a group conversation condition to assess state anxiety and positive and negative mood. The study compared 59 participants in the PFA condition, which consisted of a 10-minute structured discussion that used scripted prompts to provide support, normalize responses, and offer self-care strategies. An additional 60 participants were involved in a 10-minute group conversation condition, which consisted of participants speaking among themselves.
As expected, both groups showed similar baseline state anxiety and mood scores, and after watching a distressing 5-minute video, both groups showed similar significant increases in state anxiety scores and negative mood scores, as well as similar significant decreases in positive mood scores. However, compared to the group conversation condition, the PFA group evidenced significantly lower state anxiety scores immediately after receiving the structured PFA intervention. These results persisted when both groups were assessed again after a 30-minute delay. Compared to the group conversation condition, psychological first aid was also more effective in lowering negative mood scores at post-intervention, and significantly increasing positive mood scores at 30-minute delay.
These results provide empirical support that psychological first aid mitigates acute distress, fosters positive mood, and should be considered following critical incidents.