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What is Psychological First Aid?

This step explains what the structure of the course is.
A girl with plaited hair is looking out of the window, facing away from the camera.
© Public Health England

Psychological First Aid (PFA) follows four stages to help individuals cope after a difficult experience:

‘Prepare’ to deliver PFA – make sure you know the background and feel ready to act

‘Look’ for signs of distress and assess the situation

‘Listen’ to build understanding and empathy

‘Link’ to further support (community activities and groups, physical activities, voluntary and statutory agencies and online resources)

PFA is:

• providing non-intrusive, practical care and support

• assessing and helping to address people’s basic needs (e.g. food, water)

• listening, but not pressuring people to talk, and helping them to feel calm

• helping people connect with their own skills in supporting people; connect to information, services and social support to protect them from further harm

• different from Mental Health First Aid because it has been developed specifically for use in disasters and emergencies.


• only for professionals – anyone can use PFA

• professional counselling, to be used for the diagnosis of mental health issues or a psychiatric intervention (although can be part of good clinical care)

• PFA does not mean “psychological debriefing” or pressuring people to tell you their story, asking them to analyse what happened, or pressing for details of how they are feeling

Structure of the course:

This course will support you in the delivery of PFA to children and young people (ages 0-25 years). The course is split into three sessions:

Session 1: Introduction to PFA and supporting children and young people and “Prepare”

Session 2: “Look” and “Listen”

Session 3: ““Link” and taking care of yourself

Throughout the course there are short quizzes to help you reflect. There are also links to further resources and reading which you may wish to look at after finishing the course.

Keeping children and young people safe is paramount and anyone using the PFA approach needs to understand their responsibilities with regard to safeguarding. Child safeguarding refers to the actions that protect children and young people from possible harm, including self harm. It is recommended that anyone using PFA to support children and young people understands their responsibility under the Children’s Act (2004). If you work for, or volunteer for, an organisation, this can be done by following your organisation’s policy on safeguarding children, which should require you to have an appropriate level of safeguarding training in keeping with your role.

Be aware of how to escalate any safeguarding concerns (including risk of suicide or self-harm) to the local Multi Agency Safeguarding Teams (MASH) based in the local authority/ council. If you are using PFA techniques as a member of the public and you think there is a safeguarding concern, you could contact the police, your local safeguarding team (in the local council), a teacher or, a medical professional. More information about keeping children safe can be found here.

While this course is designed for people working within England, the PFA approach has been used internationally and in many different settings. Learners from other countries may still find the principles within this course useful.

In the remainder of this session we will look at some terms and concepts to help you support children and young people after potentially traumatic events, as well as how children and young people of different ages may be affected. This forms a foundation for PFA. We will also look at the first stage of PFA, ‘Prepare’.

© Public Health England
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Psychological First Aid: Supporting Children and Young People

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