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PFA Tip Sheet

Psychological First Aid (PFA) helps reduce stress symptoms and assists in a healthy recovery following a disaster or public health emergency. PFA includes actions that reduce the intensity and duration of common, distressing reactions triggered by high stress. Common stress responses include confusion, fear, anxiety, grief, anger, sleep problems, guilt, loss of confidence in self or others, and/or feeling hopeless or helpless.

PFA addresses basic needs and reduces psychological distress by providing a caring and comforting presence. Goals include empowering individuals by encouraging use of coping skills, helping people connect to natural support networks, and referring to professional services when needed.

PFA aims to create and sustain an environment of safety, calm and comfort, connectedness, self-empowerment, and hope. PFA training teaches skills to increase personal resilience and effectiveness when helping others.  

General Psychological First Aid TIPS:


  • Recognize your stress signals and use stress management techniques that work for you. If stress interferes with your ability to be safe and/or compassionate, step away and practice self-care (eat, hydrate, take slow, deep breaths using the diaphragm-not the upper chest).
  • Prepare for high stress situations by first thinking about which problems could occur, and then mapping out what you will do or say to cope in those situations.
  • During or after high stress, replace “what if…?” worry thinking with “what now?” coping actions thinking. Focus on facts, not fears. Be realistic, but emphasize the Positive. Avoid watching a lot of media. Reach out to people who will listen and be supportive. Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs.

Support OTHERS by Promoting Safety, Calm, Connectedness, Self-Efficacy

  • SAFETY: When possible, help people meet basic needs for food & shelter and obtain emergency medical attention.
  • CALM: Listen to people who wish to share their stories and emotions and remember there is no wrong or right way to feel. Be friendly and compassionate, even when people are being difficult. If you know, offer accurate information about the disaster or trauma, and the relief efforts underway to help survivors understand the situation.
  • CONNECTEDNESS: Help people contact friends or loved ones.

  • SELF-EFFICACY: Find out the types and locations of government and non-government services and direct people to those services that are available. Help people problem-solve.


  • DON’T give simple, unrealistic reassurances like “everything will be OK”.
  • DON’T promise what you cannot guarantee such as “I’m sure they’ll find your missing loved one” or “S/he’ll be fine”.
  • DON’T say “at least” or minimize people’s loss, grief, or suffering as in “At least you survived”.
  • DON’T tell people what they “should” be feeling, thinking or doing now or how they “should” have acted earlier.
  • DON’T tell people why you think they have suffered by alluding to personal behaviors or beliefs of victims.
  • DON’T force people to share their stories.
  • DON’T criticize existing services or relief activities in front of people in need of these services.

PFA information was adapted from “Psychological First Aids Skills” presentation by Dr. Elizabeth McMahon, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, fact sheet for providers on Psychological First Aid and Psychological First Aid, Field Operations Guide, National Child Traumatic Stress Network/National Center for PTSD, the Minnesota Department of Health’s website:

To learn more about Psychological First Aid and how you can help yourself and others before, during and after a disaster, contact Michael Schmidt at the San Francisco Department of Public Health (415) 581-2446 or and to schedule a Psychological First Aid Training.