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What is PFA?

Rather than implementing debriefing sessions, PFA can be used to support people experiencing disasters or other crisis events.

Rather than implementing debriefing sessions, psychological or mental health first aid (PFA) can be used to support people experiencing disasters or other crisis events. PFA is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2011), and takes a humanitarian approach. It gives a framework for supporting individuals and ensures that dignity and culture are respected.

PFA has been endorsed by many international agencies and aims to reflect the current evidence and international consensus on how best to support individuals after disasters or other crisis events. PFA involves:

  • Providing practical and unintrusive care and support
  • Assessing needs and concerns
  • Helping people to address basic needs, for example, food and water, information
  • Listening to people, but not pressuring them to talk
  • Comforting people and helping them to feel calm;
  • Helping people connect to information, services and social supports
  • Protecting people from further harm


  • Something that only professionals can do
  • Professional counselling
  • ‘Psychological debriefing’ in that PFA does not necessarily involve a detailed discussion of the event that caused the distress
  • Asking someone to analyse what happened to them or to put time and events in order
  • Although PFA involves being available to listen to people’s stories, it is not about pressuring people to share their feelings and reactions to an event


WHO. (2011). WHO | Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers. Retrieved from

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