Referral mechanisms for assessment and treatment

Setting up a referral system

Psychological First Aid involves a variety of responses including care for basic needs, empathic listening, normalizing of symptoms and expected responses, psycho-education for stress reduction and coping skills, on-going assessment and referrals for higher levels of care.

To develop an adequate referral system, it is recommended to follow these 4 steps:


Collect information about available services in a community:


Identify where and how first responders seek and access assistance, as well as the types of barriers that exist, particularly at local health facilities.


Conduct a mapping of these services:


The types of services that may be covered in the mapping are post-crisis care, counseling or basic emotional support, and other health and social services.


Put systems in place to develop and support referral systems. Establishing a functional referral system requires the following actions:


  • Identify a lead coordinating agency, responsible for making sure the referral system functions, and focal points within each service delivery agency in the system. In an emergency context, the role of coordinating site-specific referral systems may be assumed by a non-service delivery agency such as UNFPA or UNICEF, or an international NGO where these UN agencies are not operational or present.
  • Agree on the roles and responsibilities of each entity in the network.
  • Sensitize staff in service delivery agencies in the network
  • Agree on guidelines to maintain confidentiality and shared confidentiality within the referral system
  • Establish agreed-upon mechanisms for referrals and documentation of the referral process
  • Train all relevant staff on the referral system, procedures and tools and distributing these tools.
  • Implement a system to obtain periodic evaluations and analyze the effectiveness of the mechanism.


Community support and use of the referral system:


  • Translate the referral system into different languages, and create adaptations for children
  • Dissemination of information about the system and awareness activities
  • Try to get support from representatives and leaders to increase support.