Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Katie Despeaux, Jeffrey M. Lating, Ph.D.

Group Psychological First Aid

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Around 90% of Americans will be exposed to at least one critical incident in their lifetime, such as physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, accidents, or fires (Kilpatrick et al., 2013). These experiences may lead to physical and emotional reactions that range from favorable reactions, such as resilience, to adverse reactions, such as dysfunction (Bonanno et al., 2010). Crisis interventions were developed to help mitigate the potential impact of adverse reactions and seek to foster resilience post-crises (Poal, 1990). Crisis interventions typically involve building empathy with survivors through reflective listening, assessing needs and emotional reactions, and providing stress management strategies to help those in need (Everly & Flynn, 2006; Everly & Mitchell, 2000; Yeager & Roberts, 2015).  Psychological First Aid (PFA), which was first mentioned by the American Psychiatric Association in 1954 (Drayer et al., 1954), has become a popular crisis intervention model in the past decade. The Johns Hopkins RAPID – PFA model (Everly et al., 2012; Everly et al., 2014), which can be applied with an individual or groups was adapted for a group setting and used in this current study. However, crisis interventions, which are widely accepted and implemented following critical incidents, in general lack empirical support. A recent study examined RAPID – PFA on an individual level and found that those who received the intervention had final anxiety and affect responses lower than at the beginning of the study (Everly, Lating, Sherman, & Goncher, 2016). This study is utilizing RAPID – PFA in a group setting to add to this research in order to continue assessing its potential benefits to mitigate distress.

Approximately 120 Loyola University Maryland students will be in one of two discussion groups after viewing a graphic video depicting an attack on civilians in Syria. Half of these participants will be randomly assigned to a group using RAPID – PFA, while the other half will be randomly assigned to a group in which they will discuss their reactions to the video without guidance or prompts. To measure and compare both groups’ anxiety and emotional states, they will respond to the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, form Y and the Positive and Negative Affect Scales before viewing the video, immediately after viewing the video, immediately after the group discussion, and after a 30-minute delay. Participants will also respond to questionnaires inquiring about basic demographics, their exposure to violent images, and how disturbing they found the video. This study proposes that all participants’ anxiety and emotional states will worsen following the video compared to their baseline levels. After the intervention, it is hypothesized  that those receiving  RAPID – PFA and those receiving the unguided discussion will both have lower anxiety and negative affective responses at 30-minute delay compared to immediately following the video, but that those responses in the RAPID-PFA will be significantly lower than for those in the unguided discussion. Moreover, it is hypothesized that those in the PFA group, but not those in the unguided discussion, will have 30-minute delay scores that are significantly lower than their baseline measures.