Coping with crisis or emergency events

A psychological first aid course to improve skills to help family and friends

Dr. Bjorn Ratjen wraps up his seminar on Psychological First Aid at Cowichan Lake Recreation on Saturday

Dr. Bjorn Ratjen wraps up his seminar on Psychological First Aid at Cowichan Lake Recreation on Saturday

On Saturday, Oct. 27, Dr. Bjorn Ratjen, a communication and wellness consultant and a critical incident stress management expert, delivered a seminar on the psychological aspects of first aid response to members of the community as well as area first responders and ambulance attendants at Cowichan Lake Recreation.

During the seminar, participants learned how to respond to individuals who have experienced a disaster or a traumatic event.

Ratjen says that before he even started with his agenda for the day he asked participants what they wanted out of the course.

“I told them that I would put it aside and we would see at the end how we were doing with all of this, because I wanted to make sure that I answered all their questions,” said Ratjen.

Items on the list of things people said they wanted to know about included the psychological aspects of a call out, the perspective of a first responder, the sequence of an emergency response, recognizing stress in a disaster situation in both one’s self and others, learning what to offer that can be helpful in a crisis situation, and contacts for help.

Everyone who attended the seminar said that all of these questions and more were answered, and one woman commented that the entire presentation made all of the information gel and come together for her.

Ratjen says that the psychological first aid skills he was teaching are ones that everyone can utilize in the event of a personal or more grand-scale disaster.

“It means to be immediately there for people that have experienced disaster or a traumatic incident,” said Ratjen. “It is not something where you need a special certificate. A lot of it is common sense. It requires a sense of personal awareness and it’s first aid so it’s something that needs to happen immediately; you focus on what’s necessary right now at this moment to do the next step.”

Ratjen has a few tips to pass along to readers who may one day find themselves in a situation of helping someone who has experienced a traumatic event.

“For someone who has, let’s say, been in a car accident or personal disaster, the road map has been re-set for them. So, it’s natural because we are wired that way, that there is an emotional reaction. And when there’s an emotional reaction, the processing of cognitive information is more limited.”

He says that what responders need to know is: they can attend to the emotional reaction and they can guide people through the right amount of information.

“What is the next step, is small steps, because they’re emotionally preoccupied,” said Ratjen.

This includes small steps such as getting warm, drinking water, and sitting down.

“They will need guidance because the emotions may have taken over so much that they forget the immediate steps for how to take care of themselves.”

He says that first responders need to know the resources available to them and match those resources appropriately with the needs of the victim. It is also important for a first responder to take care of themselves at the same time. This includes not getting emotionally wrapped up in the trauma that the victim is experiencing.

“If you have a headache, it doesn’t serve you or me if I adopt the headache too. I have to know that it’s your headache and I’m willing to help you and I’m going to have empathy for that, but it’s still your headache,” said Ratjen.

Ratjen says that we have all experienced traumatic experiences in our lives, and that those who attend his seminars often have had firsthand experience themselves.

“We have all experienced pain, we have all had losses, some people have worked in the field, and other people have been through personal experience within their family or have seen accidents or have had situations, so there are lots of personal experiences that play a role here. And personal experience can be an asset. It can be painful, but it can be an asset in making us more aware and understanding.”

In order for these experiences to become an asset, we have to process them and heal.

“If we don’t do that, then they’re just sitting there and they become baggage.”

As a final comment about the course, Ratjen said it is important for first responders to focus on the human aspect of a traumatic event or disaster.

“Because the main resource in every emergency response is the people. That’s true for fire departments, it’s true for anything. We have all sorts of tools and toys and whatever, and they’re important too, and yet it’s the people who make things work.”

This was one of many public safety courses and campaigns being put on by the CVRD throughout the fall. Programs offered throughout the month of November include Life-saver First Aid on Nov. 10, Introduction to ESS on Nov. 22, ESS Essentials on Nov. 24, and Incident Command 100 on Nov. 29. For more information, email or call 250-746-2560 to reach the CVRD’s Public Safety Department.