Free Online Course Teaches Psychological First Aid

Over 200,000 people have already completed this Johns Hopkins course.


(fizkes /

First aid is universal. Most people own a home kit filled with gauze bandages and creams, while emergency first aid is routinely taught to parents, teachers, and emergency workers. However, psychological first aid (PFA) is now taking the main stage thanks to a free online course. Teaching people how to care for themselves and for others is changing lives on a personal and community level.

The concept of PFA was formally developed for emergency response teams after 9/11 by the  National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The key elements are calming, safety, connectedness, self-efficacy, and hope. This type of emotional care is now readily available to all with a free online course at Baltimore Maryland's Johns Hopkins University.  

PFA is recommended by the World Health Organization, the American Red Cross, the American Psychiatric Association, and other leading health institutions, according to a press release from the university and is meant to help anyone dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, or any other emotional wound

The Johns Hopkins course is aptly called Psychological First Aid and was created by Dr. George S. Everly, co-author of the book The John Hopkins Guide to Psychological First Aid. Everly is also co-founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Preparedness. 

The course is free and is available on Coursera.  The five-week course follows his RAPID model, a five-phase response that stands for Reflective listening, Assessment of needs, Prioritization, Intervention, and Disposition. One can audit the course or pay and receive a certificate.  

Everly’s RAPID model can be used by the military, law enforcement, faith-based organizations, public health workers, and the workplace. It is particularly applicable in situations that cause anxiety and psychological distress, such as robberies or accidents.  This tool is so important in helping people cope with the stressors of day-to-day life, it can be used by everyone.

So far, over 200,000 people have already completed the five-week program, which includes videos and reading material. It takes about one hour per week with six hours of learning via video lectures. This popular course provides tools to mitigate dysfunction, identify the level of crisis, prioritize response, practice self-care, and much more. 

Some students who reviewed the course reported it to be life-changing. They appreciated learning the importance of caring for themselves, how to talk to others in times of crisis, and how to give back to the local community.

While the Johns Hopkins’ program stands out in the field of psychological first aid, there are a number of other online programs that can help individuals equip themselves with tools to reduce anxiety and depression in their day-to-day lives. One of Yale’s most popular online courses,  The Science of Well-Being, discusses the science of happiness and offers practical exercises. Over two and a half million people have taken this course, with many finding it life-altering.

The University of California, Berkeley has also published a popular online course called the Science of Happiness. Over 550,000 people have taken this course and research has found that it has successfully uplifted students. This course is ranked as one of the top ten courses on the edX platform, a place where people can access 2,000 university courses for free.

Taught in eight one-hour segments, the happiness course is based on scientific studies. It shows that happiness may be achieved by developing two areas of one’s life: by strengthening social connections and by contributing to a cause larger than oneself.

The reviews for this course are also outstanding. “This is the most useful course I have ever taken,” a student told UC Berkeley. “The materials that were offered in this course completely changed my perspective towards life.”

Whether courses focus on how to be happier or how to support others coping with emotional distress, these online workshops provide people with knowledge, tools, and resources to ease and overcome psychological hardships.  Offering the courses free of charge enables critical and life-changing information to be accessible to all. The hope is that one day everyone will have both a physical and psychological first aid kit at home.

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