What is first aid and why is it important for Complementary Health practitioners?

Why is it a good idea for anyone to learn first aid? How can being proficient in first aid benefit our mental health?

First aid is the first and immediate assistance given to any person suffering from a minor or serious illness or injury, with care provided to preserve life, prevent the condition and situation from worsening, and to promote recovery. Courses give us the skills and guidance in knowing what to do in an emergency and deciding what sort of help is needed i.e. 999, being taken to A&E, seeing their GP and/or first aider treatment.

We are much more likely to need and use first aid skills on ourselves and immediate family, but as health professionals, we are dealing with people with health issues and anything could happen within our treatments e.g. fainting, a seizure or diabetic hyper/hypo episode; someone may have injured themselves on the way to the session with you, taking it for granted that you’d know what to do. Being prepared and having these skills is a necessary part of our professional ‘tool kit’.

So why is there a resistance to learn first aid? I think the most common answer is fear, often based in unrealistic expectations and urban myths (like first aiders get sued, which can be discussed in another article and as a quick spoiler or comforter, no first aider has ever been sued in the UK or Europe.). This is where First Aid training can benefit our Mental Health and give you peace of mind as a clinical therapist. Most complementary therapists are self-employed and may work from home and having your First Aid certificate is really important so that you know how to act in case of an emergency. Others may work in clinics, hospitals, hospices or sports centres where there is a designated person or persons to ensure at least one First Aider is available at all times.

Many of our CHP members are diligent about renewing their First Aid certification. Having first aid skills and competencies is empowering and therefore boosts our confidence and self-esteem. We know from brain imaging studies that when we are thinking positively, or helping others, we activate what we call “the value Areas” of the brain in regions including the striatum and prefrontal cortex. When we feel confident, we engage circuits involved in reward and pleasure and we literally feel good. We know through research with elite athletes that confidence positively affects their performance. First Aid adds value, to individuals and to society; it promotes a healthy, secure and safer environment.

Being prepared for a situation helps us deal with it and the consequences better. Being well-informed and up-to-date ensure our competence, best-practice and saves us suffering from the unrealistic expectations of misinformation. High quality first aid training can really make a difference. One recent example of this happened at an inter-school netball event in Leicestershire prior to the Covid pandemic. A 12-year-old girl collapsed unconscious and several of the teachers present were advocating putting her into to the recovery position. Fortunately, one first aid trained teacher spotted the girl was agonal breathing/gasping and not breathing normally – a sign of cardiac arrest. The quick and confident actions of starting CPR and sending for an Automated external defibrillator (AED) unit undoubtedly saved her life.

A campaign led by the British Heart Foundation and independent training providers was successful in first aid now being part of the national school curriculum. First aid is great for applying maths, biology, practical and problem-solving skills as well as the practical skills. I would suggest to go a step further though and that it’d be great if school children do the First Aid at Work course before leaving school. It’s a great qualification for them to have with value to industry, social and community. People talk about common-sense like it’s a given, obvious. It isn’t! Common-sense is learnt logic and very few things are truly obvious. First aid is a great way to start thinking about how to deal with urgent situations and becoming more ‘savvy’.

I would suggest too that doing the First Aid at Work course is much more necessary, empowering and confidence giving than just the one-day Emergency First Aid course. As stated previously we are more likely to be dealing with minor injuries and illnesses which are not covered on the one day course.