Introduction to Crisis Intervention

By Carl Golden

With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing, because listening to your brothers or sisters until they have said the last words in their hearts is healing and consoling. Someone has said that it is possible “to listen a person’s soul into existence.”
—Catherine de Hueck Doherty

In the aftermath of a catastrophe, most victims must deal not only with the physical and emotional shock waves of the event but also, in short order, with the sense of helplessness, powerlessness, and a loss of control. Crisis intervention is a humane effort to reduce the severity of a crisis' impact on one's life by helping people win as much mastery over the crisis experience as possible.

For many of us, the physical and emotional reactions that describe crisis are not severe and recede after a few hours or days. For others, the crisis is put on hold while survival skills are mobilized, and only days, even years, later, does the enormity of the event hit us. Even individuals who do not develop the symptoms of long-term stress reactions face the risk that certain “provocations” can reproduce the old feelings of panic, helplessness, anger, and the like.

Crisis encompasses a number of intense, tumultuous emotions; it can be a continuing condition, or alternatively flare and recede; any stressful, post-crime event, such as going to a battered women’s shelter, or to a lineup, or to a trial, may cause a person who has been abused to relive the original trauma, which can catalyse a crisis episode. While there are no predictors about who will experience crisis, or when the onset will be, or how severe it will be in intensity or duration, a working presumption is that the sooner the crisis intervention is offered, the better. Indeed, there is a conviction among many practitioners that on-scene intervention, when the victim is in the early stages of distress, may prove to prevent or greatly reduce the crisis symptoms.

While dealing with crisis, both personal and societal, there are five basic principles outlined for intervention. People who have suffered trauma are initially at high risk for maladaptive coping or immobilization. Intervening as quickly as possible is imperative. Resource mobilization should be immediately enacted in order to provide victims the needed support to restore some sort of order and normalcy, in addition to enable eventual independent functioning. The next step is to facilitate understanding of the event by processing the situation or trauma. This is done in order to help patients gain a better understanding of what has occurred and allowing him or her to express feeling about the experience. Additionally, the counselor should assist the patient(s) in problem solving within the context of their situation and feelings. This is necessary for developing self-efficacy and self-reliance. Helping people get back to being able to function independently by actively facilitating problem solving, assisting in developing appropriate strategies for addressing those concerns, and in helping putting those strategies into action is done in hopes of assisting traumatized individuals become self-reliant.

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