Psychological First Aid MOOC

Course: Psychological First Aid
School: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Instructors: George Everly, Jr., PhD

Utilizing the RAPID model (Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition), this specialized course provides perspectives on injuries and trauma that are beyond those physical in nature. The RAPID model is readily applicable to public health settings, the workplace, the military, faith-based organizations, mass disaster venues, and even the demands of more commonplace critical events, e.g., dealing with the psychological aftermath of accidents, robberies, suicide, homicide, or community violence. In addition, the RAPID model has been found effective in promoting personal and community resilience.

[Addendum: This course has been converted to the new Coursera platform; content may have changed, and the experience is likely to be very different]

This course isn’t about providing support to friends and family dealing with the everyday problems we’re all familiar with: financial stress, family conflicts, difficult decisions. Nope, this was about catastrophe. That is, providing temporary, stabilizing support for people who’ve lost their homes, who’ve been amidst danger, death, and destruction. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly… un-intense. I was more moved by the descriptions of the Japanese tsunami given in an earlier Earth Science course.

It wasn’t so much a MOOC as an in-service practicum for first responders: a review of easily-remembered steps to take when dealing with people affected by disaster, following the RAPID model: Rapport, Assessment, Prioritization, Intervention, Disposition, with each step broken down into individual considerations. Each week covered a different part of the RAPID process, with a sample vignette showing “do” and “don’t” approaches accompanied each week. The “don’t” segments were unintentionally hilarious to me since they were so outrageously wrong (ranging from “oh, cheer up, you’re alive, so what if you lost your house” to the alternate extreme of “if you’re depressed now that you’ve lost everything, you should be on medication” – the woman who played the “victim” of the storm is a terrific actress), but, sadly, I could see well-meaning people thinking the approaches were correct, so I understand how necessary it is to teach the more reasonable path advocated by the RAPID method, rather than set those well-meaning people loose with no guidelines.

Although each week’s lecture material was followed by a multiple choice quiz, this wasn’t as much an academic course as a how-to with a minimum of theory and a maximum of application. As that, it was interesting, and I can see it being valuable for a variety of organizations who have people who need training, but strained budgets. An additional hands-on “simulation” component, allowing students to practice the skills, would be essential in that setting, but that would be easy enough to arrange. I could see the whole thing fitting into a couple of days of in-service training.

And given the likelihood that weather-related catastrophes will continue to occur more frequently as oil money perpetuates itself, it seems like a good way to provide the basics.


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