What is Crisis Counseling?

This weeks post will be about crisis counseling.

Crisis counseling is not like regular counseling. Regular counselors who want to do crisis counseling tend to have several issues making the shift. Because counselors hear so much about problematic and dysfunctional human behavior, they tend to be somewhat used to it, and some of the more “normal” reaction to the severity of the situation may be blunted. In the crisis counseling world, this could be interpreted as unsympathetic. Regular counselors also want to help the person fix their problematic thinking or emotions. In crisis counseling that would be inappropriate. The role of the crisis counselor is to make sure the person’s needs for safety are met and to provide information. That’s pretty much it. Anything beyond that is not effective, and also may be seen as unsympathetic or just plain annoying.

In crisis counseling the role of the counselor is not to affect change. The role is very practical, like getting them a glass of water. When people are in crisis, their needs are lower on Maslow’s hierarchy, and so you are dealing with more basic issues such as safety. If safety and food needs are met, a crisis counselor may provide information, but they would not do psychotherapy.

In regular counseling, we assume the client is deficient, but in crisis counseling we assume that the person has resources. Therefore, the role of a crisis counselor is to be the bridge between the client and resources. Most individuals do not develop psychopathology from a crisis situation, but may need some type of basic comfort in the moment.

Furthermore, you cannot talk to a person in crisis the same way as you would a person not in crisis, this is just like speaking Chinese. For example, you would not tell a person in crisis that “it is going to be OK.” Not only is it unhelpful, it is very frustrating to the person. A person in crisis is in their limbic system, their “body brain.” They do not have access to their neocortex, which means they really can’t process things on a cognitive level.

Individuals vary widely on both what constitutes a crisis and the reactions they have to the event. Anything can be a crisis; you have to look at the meaning individuals construct behind the event. Stress reactions range in all kinds of different directions. Everything from laughing and smiling to crying on the floor.