TU professor delivers psychological first aid training to Ukrainian social workers
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TU professor delivers psychological first aid training to Ukrainian social workers

head and shoulders photo of woman with short brown hair wearing glasses and a colorful scarf
Elana Newman

On Sept. 6 and 8, Elana Newman, the R.M. McFarlin Professor of Psychology and co-director of the Institute of Trauma, Adversity and Injustice (TITAN) at The University of Tulsa, delivered two training sessions via Zoom for more than 100 social workers in Ukraine’s Odessa region. The topic she addressed was psychological first aid (PFA), an evidence-informed modular approach to assist people in the immediate aftermath of war, disaster and terrorism.

“PFA is helpful for individuals who are experiencing acute stress reactions and/or who appear to be at risk for significant impairment in functioning,” explained Newman, a widely regarded expert in disaster mental health. PFA has five main actions:

  • To establish safety and security
  • To connect people to restorative resources
  • To reduce stress-related reactions
  • To foster adaptive short-and long-term coping
  • To enhance natural resilience, rather than preventing long-term pathology

a slide from a PowerPoint deck containing two columns of text in Ukrainian on the left and English on the rightNewman’s work was funded by a grant from the German government to Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin. “The three fantastic people I am working with in Ukraine determined that the Odessa region was most in need of immediate training for mental health needs,” Newman said. “But we had to work quickly and pull the training sessions together in just three weeks.”

Because the war in Ukraine is still ongoing, Newman adapted the information she shared. Normally, the PFA training Newman delivers occupies six hours. In order to restructure it for the social workers in Odessa, she ensured it was culturally applicable and included examples relevant to the war. She also brought in the services of a translator and readied the sessions for Zoom delivery.

In developing these sessions, Newman drew on her extensive knowledge about Ukrainian society. Some of that insight was gained during two past trips to Ukraine – once to participate in a NATO expert-consensus panel in Odessa on early intervention approaches and another time to work with journalists in Kyiv on covering trauma and dealing with their own self-care.

screenshot of Zoom presentation showing a slide from a PowerPoint deck and a column of participants down the right-hand side When war broke out, Newman and one of her graduate students, Pauleen Diamond, were engaged in a study of Ukrainian journalists; at that point, their project had to be halted. Since February, however, she has been reaching out to colleagues and participating in calls and virtual meetings in order to support the mental health and journalism communities. During summer 2022, Newman and a Georgian colleague volunteered their time to deliver a workshop via Zoom focused on how clinicians can support media professionals.

The next step for Newman is to train the trainers so that they are equipped to deliver PFA sessions to others in Ukraine: “I plan to conduct a few intensive workshops with them, after which they will be able to try their hands at conducting a training session. As a wrap-up, we will meet as a group to raise issues and address questions.”

TITAN promotes social justice and reduces trauma and adversity through interdisciplinary research, education and service. Learn more today!