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Psychological First Aid Training

As colleges and universities aim to welcome students that have experienced displacement, it’s important to foster campuses that are migration and trauma-informed spaces. 

One step some campuses are taking is Psychological First Aid (PFA) training. PFA is a tool that can be used for anyone, but can also be used to support students who have experienced forced-displacement and associated trauma. PFA builds on human resilience and aims to provide support in ways that respect an individual’s dignity, culture, and abilities. 

Over the past year, the New School Trauma and Global Mental Health Lab, led by Vice Provost for Research and Associate Professor Adam Brown, has been providing PFA training to campus staff and students, specifically some colleges and universities that welcomed large cohorts of Afghan students that were evacuated in August 2021. As part of this work, The New School team meets with each school in advance to ensure that the materials and strategies employed during the PFA training are culturally and contextually aligned with the needs of their students and fits into the existing support structures already in place on campus. PFA focuses on three main principles, 1) Look, 2) Listen, 3) Link, to support students experiencing distress. “PFA is not meant to replace the excellent care provided by mental health specialists on campuses. Rather, PFA is meant to complement campus mental health services while increasing accessibility and decreasing stigma around mental health support,”  says Brown. Nicole Ross, a clinical psychology PhD student at the New School who co-leads many of the trainings notes, “in addition to preparing staff and students to deliver PFA to those in distress, there is a strong focus on self-care in the trainings. We consistently find that PFA fosters a powerful sense of cohesion and community, as well as promotes individuals’ own resilience.” 

Following the evacuation, Bard College immediately took in Afghan students as early as September of 2021.  This meant they needed to quickly provide training and support for the community to prepare to meet the student needs.  By January 2022, 50 new Afghan transfer students arrived and another 100 Afghan students are expected by January 2023.  PFA training was critical for key staff members working with new students directly and for the general community, and provided an essential framework for faculty, staff and students.  The training prepared staff for the diverse background and experiences that included a diverse expression of those experiences within the community.  The design of the program makes it an excellent tool to use beyond students who have experienced the most extreme traumas and the application of PFA generally can provide essential interventions to help in student support services and beyond.

The New School Global Mental Health Lab is broadly interested in how traumatic stress impacts mental health and to develop and test new ways to foster resilience and reduce psychological distress in trauma-exposed communities. If you are interested in having a Psychological First Aid (PFA) training for your staff or campus, please contact Adam Brown at The New School for Social Research (brownad@newschool.edu).