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What to Do/What to Say

Some day you may unexpectedly find yourself in a position where you can provide assistance to someone in an immediate traumatic situation. Here are some basic things you can keep in mind:

TIP San DiegoEmotional First Aid
Emotional First Aid is a set of life skills used by lay citizens and emergency responders to provide the support a person who is emotionally shocked needs immediately following a crisis event.

Reach Out Physically
Position yourself at the victim's side and at his or her level. Touch, unless the person pulls away. Use a soft voice. Use the person's name.

Reach Out Emotionally
Ask the victim how he/she is feeling. Acknowledge the victim's experience. Never minimize the victim's experience with words like "You'll be O.K.".

Don't Overlook the Quiet Victims
Many victims, after a tragic event, are stunned and may appear unaffected. Remember that many people can be effected by a tragic event - witnesses, rescuers, and children. Don't overlook these "invisible" victims. When you suspect someone may be effected by a tragic event, reach out with Caring Curiosity and ask "how are YOU?"

Protect the Victim
Protect the victim from making impulsive decisions. Most major decisions can wait until the victim is thinking more clearly. Protect the victim from being victimized by others who may not have the victim's best interest in mind. Provide for the victim's physical needs ... food, medicine, shelter, a safe place, etc.

Tip Volunteer ServicesReassure the Victim
Many victims have an urgent need for information after a tragic event ... "What happened?" ... "Why?" ... "Where or how is my other family member?" etc. Assist the victim in getting the information he/she needs. The victim may need an information advocate. Victims often blame themselves for the crisis event. Help a "guilty" victim gain perspective by asking him to tell you the whole story. Try to reassure the victim and point out to the victim that he did the right thing before, during, or after the event.

Help the Victim Organize
Victims are often emotionally paralyzed after a tragic event and lose their capacity to deal with all the demands created by the tragedy. Assist the victim in developing a simple plan and to focus on what needs to be done right now.

Reinforce the actions which the victim is taking or wants to take to emotionally survive the tragic event. The victim will struggle to find something or someone to hold onto in the first few hours. You may need to "clear the way" so that a victim is able to do what he wants to do.

In the first few hours after a tragic event, the victim is often surrounded by people who have their own jobs to do, or who have opinions about what the victim should or shouldn't do. The primary goal of the person providing Emotional First Aid is to enable the victim to act according to his or her wishes, values, and beliefs, and not according to what others think should be done. Do not "over care" or do too much for the victim. Remember that the primary psychological challenge for the victim is to regain a sense of control. Therefore, the victim should be encouraged to make decisions and take control on his own behalf, so far as practical.

Finally, a broken heart cannot be mended. Don't try! A caring presence is what you can offer to someone who is emotionally devastated. Just being there is very powerful and will be perceived by the victim as being very helpful.

Things to Say to a Victim Things Not to Say to a Victim
What Happened? I know how you feel
I'm so sorry Calm down
This must be very difficult for you Don't cry
It's O.K. to feel... It could be worse
I don't know what to say ... God has His reasons

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