At any time, whether we are psychologists or not, we can find ourselves in a situation that requires our intervention . For example, we may find ourselves in a complicated situation in many different situations, such as an accident on the road or an incident on a hike.
In another article by Psychology and Mind the role of psychology in emergencies and disasters has already been discussed, and today we are going to go deeper into some practical keys to help people who need it, regardless of whether we are mental health professionals or not.
We humans are social beings and, especially in the summertime, we move from one place to another in high temperatures and are more likely to find ourselves in situations where we must attend to and help, within our possibilities, another person or family who has suffered an incident.
General principles for giving psychological help
With this purpose and without the intention of going deeper, given that the bibliography is extensive, I intend to summarize in four basic principles the keys to providing psychological support to someone who needs it .
Based on my experience in both the social and health care fields, which has involved care in emergency and urgent situations or in other cases in contexts of high emotional tension, there is a series of steps that coincide in all the bibliographic references on emergencies which, I believe, are key to providing initial care before specialized teams come. These premises will serve as a guide for you and the people you attend to , and will facilitate safety, emotional ventilation and relief for the people we attend to.
These principles will follow the pre-established order, and I will extend with some example later: the first thing will be to give the notice by calling emergencies, they will give us guidelines that will allow us to analyze the situation before we approach and present ourselves. Once we are in front of the people we want to help, we will introduce ourselves and inform them that we have called for emergencies and that specialized help has been warned and is on its way. Finally, we will listen and facilitate the emotional expression by staying by their side until help arrives, if it is in our possibilities.
I will detail each of the steps to make it easier to understand what we should do if someone needs our psychological and emotional support.
1. Give notice to emergencies
An obvious one, perhaps, but its importance and the need for it to go in point 1 is totally unquestionable.
Even so, I have been surprised to hear stories of people who had “not fallen” in calling the emergency services . Fortunately, thanks to the social and media awareness, the telephone 112 and the other emergency operations are the best known and almost everyone rushes to call the emergency services when an accident happens.
The variety of situations we can encounter is wide: car accidents, floods, fires, lonely and disoriented elderly people or children. We can also witness situations of violence (street, partner, family, or other abuse), hear screams or people shouting for help, and a long etcetera.
In these situations you should always call the emergency services , and the professionals who will attend to your call will assess the seriousness of the situation and which devices to send to the area (ambulance, fire brigade, police, etc.). Nowadays, everything is centralized and we only have to describe what we see during the call.
2. Analyze the situation and approach it with caution
During the emergency call, the operator will make us observe and ask us about the location and type of situation to find out what is happening .
For example, if someone faints in front of us, we will be asked if they are conscious, if they are breathing, etc. These same questions will guide us about what will happen afterwards, and the operator herself will give us safety instructions (for example if there is an accident she will recommend where to stand to avoid problems) and will inform us of the approximate time delay .
3. Introduce yourself, inform and guide
It is crucial to introduce ourselves . Approach the person concerned in a calm manner and tell him/her our name, who we are and why we are there. For example: “Hello, my name is Maria. I saw your motorbike on the road and called 911. And ask her name, remember she is a person and introductions humanize us.
Informing her of the situation is key here, disinformation distresses people who find themselves in such a situation. You will only have to tell her what you have been moved to when you have given the warning and when it will take a while , trying to use positive language using terms such as “soon” since the person who is the victim of the situation will already be very distressed. We can encourage calm with some phrases, such as “I’ve warned you and the ambulance is on its way. I was also told that it is better not to move, they will be here soon”.
It is important that you control your tone of voice and your non-verbal language; stay in their field of vision, making eye contact when they speak or talk to you, ask before touching the person if they want you to help them and not invade their living space if they do not give you permission. Your role is not to replace the health technicians, it is to make sure that the person is comfortable and accompanied until then .
Once informed and oriented, we can say something to comfort the injured or troubled person, such as waiting with them and taking an interest in their condition, which would already be phase 4.
4. Listening and facilitating emotional expression
Take an interest in what has happened, facilitate their emotional expression and stimulate their dialogue . It is enough for you to ask questions and not interrupt when he explains and to remain receptive with a state of active listening.
You can, if you’re comfortable at some point, paraphrase/ recapitulate to give her feedback that you understood her to situate her and mitigate her distress, using her own terms, for example: “What you’re telling me is that you hit that tree from the right side of the bike. Even when the technicians come, paraphrasing will help you remember information to pass on to the professionals , if the person is unconscious or too dazed to speak.
If you verbalize or externalize emotional expressions such as crying and embarrassment, you should support that feeling and facilitate its expression, with phrases such as “it’s normal to feel this way, you’ve had an accident, but the ambulance is on its way”.
During the wait, stay accessible, applying active listening. If you are receptive you will even be able to detect and observe needs that are not verbalised and facilitate their expression.