The effectiveness of psychological first aid as a disaster intervention tool: research analysis of peer-reviewed literature from 1990-2010

Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2012 Oct;6(3):247-52. doi: 10.1001/dmp.2012.39.


Objective: The Advisory Council of the American Red Cross Disaster Services requested that an independent study determine whether first-aid providers without professional mental health training, when confronted with people who have experienced a traumatic event, offer a "safe, effective and feasible intervention."

Methods: Standard databases were searched by an expert panel from 1990 to September 2010 using the keyword phrase "psychological first aid." Documents were included if the process was referred to as care provided to victims, first responders, or volunteers and excluded if it was not associated with a disaster or mass casualty event, or was used after individual nondisaster traumas such as rape and murder. This search yielded 58 citations.

Results: It was determined that adequate scientific evidence for psychological first aid is lacking but widely supported by expert opinion and rational conjecture. No controlled studies were found. There is insufficient evidence supporting a treatment standard or a treatment guideline.

Conclusion: Sufficient evidence for psychological first aid is widely supported by available objective observations and expert opinion and best fits the category of "evidence informed" but without proof of effectiveness. An intervention provided by volunteers without professional mental health training for people who have experienced a traumatic event offers an acceptable option. Further outcome research is recommended.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees / organization & administration
  • Advisory Committees / standards
  • Disasters*
  • First Aid / psychology*
  • First Aid / standards*
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome