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What Is Crisis Intervention?

Crisis intervention is a process whereby individuals or groups are provided with therapy, counselling, or similar services, to help them through a crisis or a highly disruptive event. This can take many forms: a person who has experienced or witnessed an assault; a group of teenagers who have lost a classmate in a traumatic way; a doctor who is at the frontlines of dealing with a pandemic such as COVID-19.

Crisis intervention has a limited lifespan built into it: the point is to help the people affected get back on their feet. There is no long-term plan, although crisis intervention often does lead to treatments that span a longer period of time. For example, someone who has recently lost a parent or a spouse could be offered therapy to help them deal with the immediate aftermath of the loss. This therapy may include a referral to longer-term therapy to help the person cope with abuse they suffered at the hands of the deceased.

When Is Crisis Intervention Needed?

It is important to remember that although it may be tempting to classify some crises as “worse” than others, everyone experiences things in different ways. The question of who needs a crisis intervention and under what circumstances depends less on the nature of the crisis and more on the person and the risk they present to themselves and the people around them.

Crisis intervention is generally needed in the following circumstances:

  • The individual has been through a recent trauma. This could be the death of a loved one, an assault or attack – either experienced or witnessed, a natural disaster, a life-changing accident, or a medical emergency. It could also be a collection of traumatic experiences over time, for example, domestic violence or high school bullying.
  • The individual lacks the personal resources to get themselves through the crisis. Resources include easy access to physical or mental health providers, and the support of trusted friends and family members.
  • The individual is at risk of harming themselves. They may be talking about suicide, they could be self-harming, or they could be falling into a pattern of excessive substance use.
  • The individual is at risk of harming others. They could be talking about how they would like to hurt someone, or they might be engaging in reckless behaviour that puts others at risk, such as driving while impaired or having physical outbursts of anger.

crisis intervention needed

What is the Goal of Crisis Intervention?

First and foremost, the goal of crisis intervention is to ensure the safety of the individual experiencing the crisis, and the people around them. Once the crisis is over, the intervention ends, although the person’s “new normal” may include longer-term interventions like therapy.

Damage Control

The human stress response evolved as a mechanism to keep us alive. If you are confronted by something that poses a threat to your life, the amygdala – your brain’s emotional processing centre – sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which in turn sends signals to the rest of your body telling it to either flee or prepare for a fight.

This results in a lot of the symptoms we associate with stress, such as hypervigilance, elevated breathing, an increased heart rate, and tensing of the muscles. Although this response is geared for survival, it also happens in situations that are stressful but not actually life-threatening.

Many people need an outlet for this stress response, and they do not always choose outlets that are healthy or harmless. One of the goals of crisis intervention is to ensure that the individual does not harm themselves or the people around them during this time. This is done by trying to reduce the intensity of the person’s reactions while still acknowledging that the way they feel is valid.

Helping Life Go On

It is sometimes difficult to accept that even when things are falling apart around you, life goes on. You still have to keep food on your table and a roof over your head; you have to look after children and pets that are in your care; you have to take care of the essentials of living.

In this regard, crisis intervention has a dual purpose: to help the individual function at their pre-crisis baseline level, and to eliminate unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, disordered eating, and social withdrawal.

Preparing for The Future

Crisis intervention eventually ends, but your life continues, and it is a reality that stressful events will happen in the future. A crisis intervention professional’s first responsibility is to help you through the current crisis, but in doing so, they will help you develop the mental and emotional toolset you need to help you through future difficulties.

preparing for the future

How Does Crisis Intervention Work?

There are several models of crisis intervention used by professionals, and different ones may work in different circumstances. An example of a commonly used crisis intervention model is Gilliland’s six-step crisis intervention strategy. The six steps are as follows:

  • Define and understand the problem through active listening and empathy. During this phase, it is important for the crisis worker to put aside their biases and put the feelings of the client first.
  • Make sure the client and others are safe. This can involve assessing the risk of suicide or violence, removing access to dangerous items or harmful substances, or moving the client to a safe location.
  • Provide support. This includes emotional support in the form of giving the client a safe environment in which to talk about how they’re feeling, instrumental support that ensures that the essentials of life – such as bill payments and meals – are taken care of, and informational support that informs the client about the services and resources available to them.
  • Explore alternative ways of coping to replace unhealthy or harmful mechanisms. This usually requires the crisis worker to assess the client’s coping skills so that better ones can be formulated where needed.
  • Help the client make a detailed plan that they can follow in order to regain control of their life. This plan should contain actionable steps that move the client toward independence.
  • Obtain a commitment from the client that they understand and will follow through with this plan. A follow-up visit should be scheduled to monitor progress and add some accountability to the process. At this point, if the crisis worker deems it necessary, they can refer the client to ongoing services.

crisis intervention work

Addiction Treatment as Part of Crisis Intervention

In the actual or perceived absence of a solid support system, people often try to cope with stress by self-medicating on alcohol, cocaine, or some other substance. Because of how many substances affect the brain’s natural processes of producing neurotransmitters like dopamine, addiction can happen without the person or their loved ones realizing it. It is important, in the aftermath of a crisis, to monitor the use of substances, and to seek help early if needed.

At Intervention Rehab, we help people understand that they need treatment, and we connect them to treatment plans that are a good fit for them. If you have a loved one who needs help, contact us today.

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