Friday, September 12, 2014

TOP STORY >> Duty to intervene: Psychological first aid and active listening

By Maj. Ebon Alley
19th Medical Group

September is World Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide remains an international public health concern as the second leading cause of death in the 15-29 years age group. 

Combating suicide is a community responsibility and the Air Force has made significant strides to provide education on risk factors and crisis intervention skills. 

The Air Force emphasizes the importance of our “Duty to Intervene;” this has most frequently come in the form of the A.C.E acronym, or Ask, Care, Escort. 

Identifying and providing treatment to those in crisis is a great start; however, it is important that we strive to go further, and learn how to intervene before a crisis occurs.

During this suicide prevention month, I challenge the Team Little Rock community to learn new methods of providing emotional support for one another.

When you get a cut on your finger you typically get a band aid and provide basic “first aid”. The same can be done for emotional wounds. It’s called Psychological First Aid.

PFA was initially designed as a strategy to provide support and enhance resilience for disaster survivors. The primary objectives are to provide a safe & calm environment, to enable the person to convey their needs, and to provide practical assistance when possible. 

Many PFA skills are relatable to aspects of our everyday lives. A core strategy is the ability to actively listen. Active listening is a technique utilized in counseling that enhances communication and understanding between two parties. 

You don’t have to be a psychologist, commander, First Sergeant or supervisor to actively listen; only a good wingman. 
 You can actively listen with four simple steps: 

1) Prepare your mindset and environment; turn off distractions (“I’m ready to listen and my sole focus is the person in front of me”).

 2) Ask an open-ended question, or one that is not easily answered by a one-word answer (e.g. “What would you do with a million dollars?”).

 3) Convey your understanding with a simple gesture (e.g. head nod or “mmhmm”).

4) You can also provide a reflection, which is a brief statement repeating or summarizing exactly what has been said to you. For example, Them:  “If I had a million dollars I’d buy a boat.” You:  “You’d buy a boat.”  This simple action tends to prompt the discussion forward. 

By following these simple steps, you convey interest and respect while simultaneously promoting an environment conducive for problem resolution. 

In summary, the TLR community has a duty to intervene when others are in need. By performing simple strategies of PFA, such as active listening, we can provide critical support to those in our lives before their concerns become overwhelming. 

Whether you are in the role of a supervisor, parent, partner, or friend, active listening is the foundation for fostering relationships and providing effective emotional support. Together we can work together to build rock-solid lives. 

For additional training, sign up for Leadership Pathways classes here: or contact the mental health clinic at (501) 987-7338. 

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