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Establishing effective communication

In this article we provide guidance on how to communicate and listen effectively in your role as a PFA practitioner.
Lady on mobile phone smiling
© UK Health Security Agency

Effective communication and learning how to listen is an important part of PFA.


Understanding how to listen will help you communicate better. This refers to how the helper:

  • begins the conversation
  • pays attention and listens actively
  • accepts feelings
  • calms the distressed
  • asks about needs and concerns
  • helps those in distress find solutions to their needs and problems

Opening and Closing conversations

Thinking about how you open and close a conversation will help you to have a more meaningful conversation with those you are supporting. This is particularly true if you are approaching a stranger.

The following steps can be followed:

  • Introduce yourself (if you have not met the person you are supporting)
  • Check that the person you are helping is happy and able to talk. Check that they have a conversational level of English and consider using an interpreter if required and available. If an interpreter is not available to you, creative approaches such as using Google Translate may help.
  • Establish expectations around confidentiality and the length of the interaction: you may suggest a review after an initial conversation.
  • At the end of the contact agree an action plan and any follow up with likely timescales.

Remember that talking about thoughts and feelings is a personal preference, and you should not force others to talk (or listen) if they do not want to, and you should not go to a doctor on their behalf; this may lead them to feel uncomfortable, powerless and less able to speak for themselves. Also remember that it is not your responsibility to provide professional support to someone and if supporting the person is too much for you for any reason, then it is important to ask them to access additional help or refer them to a colleague who can continue the conversation.

If you are performing PFA as part of your professional work these steps may be incorporated into your normal activities. Many workplaces provide opportunities for their staff to be trained as a psychosocial supporter, so if you are interested in further training to support your colleagues you could talk to your line manager or your employer’s occupational health and wellbeing team.

You can find more tips for supporting others and what you can do if they need more support here.

© UK Health Security Agency
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Psychological First Aid

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