In a significant departure from the psychodynamic paradigm and predominant beliefs influenced by Freud and other theorists of that time, crisis intervention today can be achieved in a relatively short period of time. People in crisis can be helped considerably with supported networks established with family members, friends, religious leaders, and para-professionals and an adaptive resolution to a crisis situation can bring about lasting and positive change. So what is crises intervention exactly?
From the many definitions of crisis that exist, it is safe to assume that almost any crisis imaginable has an element of danger, threat or loss, either psychological or physical, as well as an opportunity for change and growth. All crises start with one of a variety of precipitating events that have been identified as a contributing factor to the perception of a crisis.
There are three main types of precipitating events:
This kind of event is a specific incident that is experienced by service providers. It can include secondary trauma or vicarious traumatization as a result of working with someone in crisis.
These are the crises that Erikson addresses in his “Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development”.
An environmental event is different in that it affects specific groups. These events include:
- natural disasters such as major hurricanes like Katrina;
- biological disaster such as AIDS;
- political disasters like the situation in Iraq;
- economic disasters such as a recession, jobs being outsourced or factories closing down;
- existential events such as mid-life crises.
- Compound events – a trans-crisis when an event experienced may not in and of itself precipitate a crisis, but actually triggers a previous crisis experienced. An example is when a woman who was raped in childhood goes into a state of crisis when her daughter is raped.
If a client does not perceive an event as a crisis, it is not a crisis. In addition to a precipitating event, there may be a consequence of the event that is actually perceived as having more danger, threat, or loss than the actual event. For example, rape may be a precipitating event, but the loss of a job, as a result, may be perceived as more of a crisis than the rape itself. This is why it is important for workers to listen carefully to their clients in order to ensure that they identify the actual event that is perceived as a crisis by the client.
Once the actual crisis has been identified, then it needs to be established whether the person’s coping strategies are insufficient or have been overwhelmed. The last criteria in the process of crisis intervention is to come to the conclusion that a state of disequilibrium exists which may benefit from intervention and an opportunity for the person to resume the same or a higher level of functioning than they had before the crisis.
Stress, trauma, and disaster management are not crises. One definition defines crisis as disorganization or instability resulting from perceived acute or chronic stress. A crisis is the failure of a person to effectively employ adequate coping skills. A major assumption of crisis intervention is that everyone is susceptible to a crisis reaction.
The safety of the client and the worker is a prerequisite in crisis intervention which is where risk and suicide assessment comes in.
Crisis intervention is time-limited and brief, lasting somewhere between six to twelve weeks. In such a short period of time, the focus is on the present and a single issue.
In crisis intervention, the worker is active but not directive. Techniques are drawn from multiple modalities and perspectives such as group therapy and family therapy and the ultimate goal is to provide the person with an opportunity for change.