Psychological first aid: helping youths survive and thrive

Teaching youths to take a step back, to step away from violent situations is what ‘Psychological first aid’ (PFA) is about. It’s part of what our partners at Fight for Peace are using to help inner city youths here in Kingston.

Johannesburg, South Africa, is a city where youth face similar challenges. Visiting from that city recently, Luke Lamprecht from Fight with Insight partnered with Fight for Peace to pass on PFA skills to its collective of community leaders, volunteers, sports coaches, psychologists and social workers.

Under its Safer Communities Programme, Fight for Peace wants to create a strong circle of care for the youths: to reduce stress and develop healthy coping behaviours instead.

The most essential lesson Luke shared: be still.

“Everything they’re getting is about being on their guard instead of taking a step back and thinking about themselves. Being permanently in a fight or flight state always brings you back to the moment and if you’ve been traumatized then you’re in that permanent over-stressed state. So, this is about giving them the ability to be still, to reflect, and have an appropriate response versus constantly reacting,” he says.

PFA provides a framework for trained adults to interact with young people in their care: it can be used at home, schools, community centres. The most important element is to provide a caring, comforting presence, from a simple greeting as the child walks in the door to how sports sessions are conducted.

Like Fight for Peace, Fight with Insight uses combat sports to help build young people’s resilience. Training children in disciplines like boxing or Tae Kwon Do puts them back into those same fight or flight situations but, much like chess, says Luke, teaches them to take control of their emotions – to turn off the anger and to think. It’s a big challenge.

Fight for PeaceLuke Lamprecht (front row, fifth from left) together with Fight for Peace staff and collective members he trained in Pscyhological First Aid (FPA) techniques.

Combat sports, like chess, help turn off the anger

“What we’re seeing is that it makes it a dire world for children to grow up in,” says Luke. “But at the same time what we find encouraging is that they have a real sense of self. What we’re trying to do is give them a sense of being able to exist beyond this daily struggle of needing to survive and to have a sense of achievement to aspire to.”

Fight for Peace’s local network of sports federations, youth development agencies and community-based organizations will be doing an ongoing series of activities using PFA. These will be delivered across the six communities in which it is active: Hannah Town, Trench Town, Denham Town, Parade Gardens, Tivoli Gardens and Fletchers Land.

This will include continued training of community representatives in responding to young people who exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, transforming green spaces and branding spaces used by children and youth with positive, resilience-building messages.


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