Psychological First Aid
Clarifying the Concept
Gerard A. Jacobs and David L. Meyer
”Psychological first aid” (PFA) is a term whose meaning has been both murky and complex in the professional literature. The concept of PFA has come into wide use in much of the world. The term is used in newspaper articles, on television news stories, and in the professional literature. Having a discussion of this topic with colleagues, however, brings to mind the often-cited allegory of a group of people who are blindfolded and trying to describe an elephant only by holding on to one portion of it, with one describing the legs, one the trunk, one the tail, etc. Each produces a very different description of the elephant. PFA is a term that is understood differently by many different people in the mental health professions. The purpose of this chapter is to advocate for a common professional understanding of the term, with the purpose of facilitating greater clarity in communication and the more rapid and effective development of PFA, including a more efficient scientific appraisal of its usefulness and refinement of its design and implementation.
It is frequently assumed that PFA is a term recently coined. In fact, the history of the term itself originates at least as early as the closing days of World War II (Blain, Hoch, & Ryan, 1945).
PFA has often been used in a vague way (Remke & Schroder, 1993) or as a generic term in referring to immediate or early psychological support (Ra