Emergency psychology: what it is, characteristics and functions.
Summary of the objectives of Emergency Psychology and the functions of this field of work.
Disasters, catastrophes, accidents... Events that negatively affect people are part of the continuum of human history.
Although the type of accidents have varied according to the historical moment, they have always been present and will continue to be so. Therefore, it is important to know how to deal with them in a correct way, helping to make the effect produced in the affected people less negative and to integrate it better in their lives.
To make this possible, the Psychology of Emergencies was developed, with the purpose of applying psychological knowledge and practices in emergency situations.
In the following article we will present the Psychology of Emergencies.In this article, we define it, seeing what characteristics are most appropriate for emergency psychologists to show, as well as the functions and interventions that they perform both for the victim and family members and for the professionals who also work in the disaster situation.
What is Emergency Psychology?
The psychology of emergencies and catastrophes is the branch of the branch of psychology whose function is not only to study the reaction of people in emergency situations, but also before and during these situations..
Likewise, its mission is the application of psychological interventions to prepare the population for catastrophic situations, bearing in mind how to react to a state of alarm and thus be able to increase adaptive behaviors and improve subsequent rehabilitation.
In other words, they not only focus on the intervention once the disaster has occurred, but also act before and during the disaster, preparing and strengthening individuals, imparting knowledge and techniques that are useful and functional for them to face the emergency situation in the best way possible..
The role of this branch of Psychology is very important, since it has been seen that if a correct intervention is not made, the states of alteration that appear in individuals in the face of catastrophes can derive, with a third of probability, in a reaction of acute stress, and may even develop a post-traumatic stress disorder.
In Spain, the first group of experts in psychological intervention in emergencies was set up in Madrid in 1999.following the natural catastrophe that occurred in the Huesca camping site.
The role of psychologists in emergencies
In order for the function of emergency psychology to be achieved correctly, it is important that the professional who performs the intervention is prepared to do so optimally.
It has been pointed out that in addition to the degree in Psychology and the specialization in psychological intervention in emergencies and catastrophes it is necessary for the professional to have adequate skills and personality characteristics, given the exceptional situations in which he/she may be involved.given the exceptional situations in which they intervene.
The profession of emergency psychologist must be vocational, since not all people, even those who have received psychological training, are prepared to act in crisis situations in which this specialist psychologist has to intervene.
It is easy for burnout to occurIn other words, it can lead to job burnout, since it requires a great deal of involvement, working with people in crisis situations and can even affect the psychological state of the professional.
With regard to the personality characteristics and skills that the emergency psychologist should have, we could mention the following:
- Emotional balance.
- Resistance to psychological and physical fatigue.
- Social skills.
- Teamwork skills.
- Tolerance to frustration.
In the same way, experience in performing psychological interventions in emergency and crisis situations..
Main functions of this branch of Psychology
The emergency psychologist will intervene both with the victims of the accident and their families, as well as with other professionals who also exercise their functions in the crisis situation, for example, doctors and nurses.
The main objectives of action after the occurrence of a traumatic event are the following: to minimize the short-term psychological impact, to make it easier to cope with situations with a high emotional content that can generate stressThe aim is to reduce the probability of developing a psychological disorder (either in the direct victim or in the people close to him/her), to inform about the help services available and to facilitate the access of the population at risk to health care.
As mentioned in the first section, the emergency psychologist will perform his or her role during and after the intervention in the crisis situation. The following are the main activities to be carried out at any given time.
Functions during the intervention
The main activities to be carried out during the intervention in the catastrophic situation are: observe both the individual behavior and the relationships between the affected, approach in an empathetic way, listen to the affected (this will not only help to improve the relationship with the victim, but will also have a therapeutic function), assess the victim's condition, paying particular attention to the groups at risk (children, the elderly, etc.), and consider the resources lost and refer them to a health center if necessary.
In relation to the families, the emergency psychologist will accompany them in the recognition of corpses and will intervene with family members in crisis, assisting in the initiation of a correct elaboration of grief.. In addition, they will also collaborate with the media in order to ensure that disasters are communicated correctly, always protecting and looking after the victims and those affected.
They will also advise managers in relation to psychological and social aspects, support and cooperate with other professionals whose work is also linked to the emergency situation. Finally, given the situation, it will be vital to know how to convey bad news appropriately..
Functions after the intervention
Once the intervention has been carried out, the activities that can be carried out are the following: monitoring the intervention groups, the persons concerned and especially the most vulnerable groups of individuals; intervening in a preventive and therapeutic manner with the victims and their families; drafting technical reports and participating in the emergency response.The elaboration of technical reports and participation in scientific debates from a psychological point of view.
Similarly, in parallel to the functions related to the intervention, the psychologist in emergencies can also carry out advisory functions to professionals in the field of emergencies, health and organizations, can also advise professionals in the field of emergencies, health and organizations (these could be 112 emergency centers, schools and municipalities). (these could be 112 emergency centers as well as schools and city councils).
Likewise, in order to ensure that the practices carried out in the emergency situation are appropriate, they will carry out research functions, both in terms of courses and pedagogical techniques and teaching methodology.
Psychological intervention in emergencies
First of all, we will see the interventions that are made to the victims, to later cite those applied to the professionals.
Intervention for victims
As mentioned above, disasters affect both the psychological state of the victims and their relatives and the professionals involved. Therefore, in order to reduce the possibility of greater effects in the future, it will be fundamental to to carry out an adequate psychological contact, listening to what the victim tells us without criticizing, thus creating a favorable atmosphere, examining the dimensions of the problem, and examining the causes of the disaster.The dimensions of the problem and the number of losses should be examined, and past, future and immediate decisions and personal resources should be evaluated.
Also, with the purpose of improving the condition of those affected, the possible solutions that can be implemented will be analyzed, bearing in mind the facts of the past, the priorities and obstacles and the various alternatives. Likewise, it will be useful to carry out concrete actions that establish objectives, value mortality and facilitate the mourning process. It would not be a complete intervention if we do not assess how the patient evolves, so it will be necessary to follow up on the patient's progress..
Intervention will be applied in different areas of the individual such as: the somatic area, with the aim of preserving physical health and assessing suicide attempts; the affective area, to express and improve the way in which feelings are expressed, as well as learning to manage anxiety; the cognitive area, in order to reflect on the accident and analyze and adapt the thoughts and beliefs of those affected; and the behavioral area, to analyze what changes would be useful as a result of the crisis.
Intervention for professionals
As already mentioned, working in disaster situations produces a great wear and tear in the professionals, which can lead to burnout.and can lead to burnout. For this reason it is important to intervene by providing resources and techniques to these professionals in order to better cope with stressful situations, identifying stress and controlling it.
The techniques used will be aimed at psychological relief (debriefing), forming groups where they can express themselves in a safe way and thus minimize their suffering.forming groups where they can express themselves in a safe way and thus minimize psychological suffering. The main objectives to be achieved are: expressing feelings, reorganizing cognitions, decreasing tension, increasing resources and promoting cohesion with the group and identifying major needs.
In case burnout has already manifested, a more specialized intervention will be necessary in order to increase the professional's stress coping resources and thus improve perceived control and self-efficacy. Some of the techniques used are: stress inoculation, cognitive restructuring, relaxation and deep breathing, and social and healthy living skills.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)