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Laurence Lépine: Providing psychological first aid in Alberta

Guest post by Bob Wallace, Canadian Red Cross
Laurence Lépine shares with Canadian Red Cross communicator Sara Falconer stories of providing Red C
Laurence Lépine shares with Canadian Red Cross communicator Sara Falconer stories of providing Red Cross teddy bears to young people returning from a month of mandatory evacuation from their homes due to the Fort McMurray wildfires.
Laurence Lépine holds a child’s table set that is part of a children’s play area
Laurence holds a child’s table set, part of a children’s play area at a Welcome Centre in Fort McMurray. The children’s areas are provided for young people to amuse themselves with games and crafts while their parents register with the Red Cross.

Canadian Red Cross volunteer Laurence Lépine is a member of the Safety and Well Being Team working at the Welcome Centres in Fort McMurray. Members of the team have expertise in psychological first aid and assist people under stress in disaster situations. In Fort McMurray, Laurence interacts with and assists people who have been under mandatory evacuation orders and are returning to homes that may have been damaged or destroyed by the wildfires that ravaged many areas of the northern Alberta community.
 
“In high stress situations sometimes the smallest setback can make people react with anger,” said Laurence, who went on to say that such anger may often be diffused by simply listening carefully to the client and responding with compassion.

Before deploying to Fort McMurray, all Red Cross volunteers were required to take a course in Psychological First Aid, which provides a baseline of training in dealing with people who have been subjected to the emotional turmoil inherent to disaster situations. Laurence, a psychology teacher and researcher at a Cégep College in Quebec, taught many of those courses.
 
Laurence talked with one client who was emotional about getting a teddy bear as a toy for his dog. Usually the toys are for children, but he had lost all his possessions in the fire, including dog toys—Laurence immediately provided a teddy bear. “The client left thanking us, saying ‘you made my day,’” shared Laurence.
 
In Fort McMurray, Laurence works closely with other mental health professionals who are part of Emotional Well Being Teams. In addition to assisting people returning to their homes, members of the team keep an eye on the many Red Cross volunteers who are working in the city, an assignment that can be very stressful.
 
For more information about Alberta Fires, please visit redcross.ca/AlbertaFiresInfo. You can also find additional information on coping in times of crisis.

Photos courtesy of Bob Wallace, Canadian Red Cross
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