Crisis intervention is a form of therapy administered by a mental health professional shortly after an individual has suffered a traumatic experience. This trauma can include — but is not limited to — the loss of a loved one, the witnessing of a natural disaster, sexual assault, suicidal feelings, the termination of a job or a personal relationship, or an automobile accident. The purpose of crisis intervention is to offer the trauma sufferer support as well as to arm him with coping strategies in hopes of lowering his risk for long-term mental health issues or self-harming behaviors.
In most cases, crisis intervention takes the form of counseling sessions, which can occur at a psychiatrist’s office, a hospital or rehabilitation center, a correctional facility, a school health office, or, in the case of natural disasters, a relief shelter. For optimal effectiveness, these sessions should begin as soon after the traumatic incident as possible. Depending on the severity of the individual’s psychological trauma, crisis intervention may be limited to a single counseling session or may continue over several weeks.
The role of the mental health professional during crisis intervention is multi-faceted. She must create an atmosphere of safety and trust to facilitate openness and reflection on the part of the trauma sufferer. It is likely that she will encourage the sufferer to think about his traumatic experience and identify the emotions, feelings, and behaviors which have resulted from it. This reflection not only encourages the trauma sufferer to think about why the incident happened and how it has impacted his life, but also allows the counselor to evaluate the sufferer for signs of risk, such as suicidal thoughts.
After guiding the trauma sufferer through a period of self-reflection, the counselor’s next task is to help him establish healthy coping mechanisms. This is perhaps the most crucial phase of crisis intervention, as it is intended to lower the sufferer’s potential for self-harm as well as long-term mental health issues like depression. The counselor may help the sufferer identify harmful current coping strategies, such as substance abuse, and suggest positive strategies such as journaling, doing breathing exercises, talking to a friend, or exercising.
Finally, crisis intervention usually involves some degree of follow-up care. This may mean that the trauma sufferer revisits the counselor on a specified date so that the counselor can evaluate the success of his coping strategies. In the case of mild trauma, the counselor may simply provide the sufferer with contact information, encouraging him to call should his feelings of post-traumatic stress resurface.