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Crisis Intervention: History and Theory

April 1, 2015

Psychological therapy

Students taking community services worker training in hopes of working in crisis intervention, should know that this field has a rich, albeit recent history. CSW training will help students familiarize themselves with the many operational theories being used to help those who have undergone or are living through a crisis. Read on to find out what these various theories are.

A Brief History of Crisis Intervention

Modern crisis intervention techniques and the practice itself can be traced back to the need for expanded psychological methods of treatment following World War II. Preliminary theories however, stemmed from the aftermath of the 1942 Coconut Grove Nightclub fire in Boston.

The fire killed 493 people, and Dr. Eric Lindemann of the nearby Massachusetts General Hospital was responsible for helping the survivors of this tragedy cope with their grief. He developed a theory that survivors go through several stages of grief, which ultimately ends with them accepting and resolving the loss. Lindemann’s stages look like this:

  • Preoccupation
  • Identification
  • Guilt and Hostility
  • Disorganization
  • Somatic complaints

Crisis Intervention Theories

Since Dr. Lindemann first published his theories, other theories of crisis intervention have emerged. Here are some you may discover while earning your community support worker diploma:

  • Systems Theory: This theory argues that all crises have to do with the relationships between people or between people and events.
  • Adaptation Theory: This is the belief that when a person’s negative thoughts, destructive defense mechanisms and maladaptive behaviour is replaced by positive equivalents, the crisis will be over for them.
  • Interpersonal Theory: According to this theory, a crisis arises when people place their self-validation in the opinions of others. Re-localizing this self-validation is the common solution.
  • Applied Crisis Theory: This theory rejects the notion that all crises can be treated the same. Instead, there are three main types – normal developmental crises, situational crises and existential crises.  

Crisis Intervention Models

There are currently four main models used to successfully intervene in a crisis situation. The first three are:

  • Cognitive: The goal of this model is to help a person change their views and beliefs about an event, because faulty thinking is the root of the crisis.
  • Equilibrium: This model, ideal for the early stages of a crisis, helps the patient re-establish the equilibrium of their normal coping methods.
  • Psychological Transition: This model aims to eliminate factors brought into a situation by a person’s heredity and learning.

The Six-Step Crisis Intervention Model

The six-step crisis intervention model, which is commonly used today, was designed by Gilliland and James. This model is designed to be implemented by a support worker, such as a CSW, and the first three steps are:

  • Define the problem
  • Ensure client safety
  • Provide support

This is followed by steps that take action and put recovery into practice:

  • Examine alternatives
  • Make plans
  • Get commitment

Are there any other crisis intervention strategies you know of that are effective?

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