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Psychological intervention in emergency situations

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Given the good acceptance of our previous article Learn Psychological First Aid with this practical guide, we provide in this new tools that will allow us to know more about the psychological intervention actions that are usually carried out in emergency situations.

It must be borne in mind that although these are crisis situations closely associated with stress, the characteristics of the This situation means that this kind of work is carried out in a different way than what happens in normal psychotherapy in consultation.

  • Related article: "10 essential tips to reduce stress"

Psychological intervention in emergencies

Before talking about the basic principles of psychological intervention in emergencies, it is necessary to establish the most probable contexts in which to implement these intervention guidelines. They are generally the following:

  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, floods, etc.
  • Technological disasters, such as those caused by chemical, nuclear, etc.
  • Terrorist action.
  • Traffic accidents with several victims.
  • Psychic instability or crisis.
  • Wars.
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The principles of psychological care in disasters and emergencies

The basic principles of intervention in these contexts are:

1. To protect

It is about making affected people feel safe and secure. To do this, you must enable the areas of:

  • Physical shelters, dwellings or shelters for victims and relatives, meeting centers, etc. Also areas for participants to be able to rest, exchange opinions and coordinate.
  • In the same way it becomes necessary set points for the media especially in emergencies of a certain magnitude.

2. Lead

Steer through the necessary instructions for tasks to be done by the affected person. We recall that in the impact phase the victim may suffer an alteration in the ability to process information, so our help in this regard is essential.

3. Connect with the victim

For which it is necessary to make use of resources that facilitate reconnect with family and acquaintances, places that provide information including administrative, etc.

4. To intervene

As we already mentioned in the previous article, you have to:

  • Guarantee basic needs to victims, such as: water, food, blankets, etc.
  • Facilitate personal space.
  • Facilitate personal contact through conversation, active listening, empathy, etc.
  • Help reunite with family and friends.
  • Facilitate grief if there have been personal losses by facilitating the expression of emotion.
  • Help control stress reactions.

Strategies used in caring for victims

In general, the intervention includes different strategies useful in these contexts, such as:

  • Social and family support.
  • Relaxation techniques, deep and diaphragmatic breathing being the most used in these cases.
  • Strategies for changing thoughts, focusing on blaming.
  • Behavior change strategies, such as distraction.
  • Possibility of referring to a specialist for a more specific intervention.

Grief management

One of the most frequent and painful interventions for victims is coping with the loss of a loved one (or several) when the emergency situation produces it.

In this sense, and once the impact phase is over, mourning intervention is usually recurrent when there have been deaths. This intervention is carried out both in affected people and their families.

We can say that grief is a normal emotional reaction to the loss of a loved one. This is a process that must be done correctly to avoid future problems. In this sense, William Wordem (1997) perfectly describes in his practical book Treatment of grief: psychological counseling and therapy, the tasks that the person must carry out to overcome and properly prepare the grief. These tasks are four and must follow the following order, although sometimes tasks I and II are given together:

  • Task I. Accept the reality of loss, that is, the person assumes with pain and even with a certain feeling of "unreality" that the death has occurred, there is no going back
  • Task II. Express the emotion and pain of loss.
  • Task III. Adapt to an environment in which the person who has died is absent.
  • Task IV. Continue living.

The complicated duel

All these tasks are usually carried out over the next few months after death, in a gradual and progressive way. Even normal periods are understood to be those that reach two years.

On the other hand, failing to complete all of these tasks can lead to a complicated or unresolved grief. In these cases, the person remains "anchored" in one of these phases for a long period of time (even years). The following are expected manifestations:

  • Sadness.
  • Anger.
  • Fatigue.
  • Impotence.
  • Shock
  • I long.
  • Relief.
  • Guilt and blame.
  • Anxiety.
  • **Loneliness. **
  • Insensitivity.
  • Physical sensations, such as: emptiness in the stomach, tightness in the chest, tightness in the throat, etc. *

The difference between a normal and pathological grieving reaction will be determined by the temporal factor. Thus, not being able to think about the deceased a few days, weeks or a few months after the death, will be normal. It will not be true to feel this happens ten years after death.

To learn more about the subject, you can consult the distance course on psychological first aid that Psychological Training organize from your website.

Bibliographic references:

  • Wordem, W. "Treatment of grief: psychological counseling and therapy." 1997. Editorial paidós.
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