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I remember vividly the first time
anyone asked me to become involved in a crisis situation.  I was an undergraduate at Ohio University,
and one of my friends came charging into my room, saying, “Come on, you have to
help Jerry!  You have to help, come
on!”  Even then, I intuitively knew that
you don’t just stick your nose into every dogfight you happen to come
across.  The alarm and urgency of my
friend, though, was nothing to ignore or take lightly.  When I got to Jerry’s room, he was doing nothing.  I mean absolutely nothing.  He was not talking, he was not looking at
anyone, he was not responding when people touched him, he was simply doing
nothing, and it was scary.  I would like
to be able to tell you how clever and effective I was, but the fact is, I
really screwed up.  I acted scared, then
I acted concerned, then I ignored him; then I got angry and went back to my
room, figuring, “The hell with it.”  For
that matter, the guy who came barging in so upset about Jerry handled the
situation in about the same way.  The
next we heard, Jerry had been taken by the emergency squad to the University Health Center.  Fortunately for Jerry (and for me as far as
that goes), he had one friend who had stayed with him, who had somehow got him
to talk a little, and who realized that something had to be done by
someone.  In Chapter 3 we will talk
specifically about our right and responsibility to intervene in crisis
situations, and about the criteria for deciding whether or not to
intervene.  My memory of Jerry tells me,
though, that people in crisis need help more that they need to be left alone;
that it is better to do too much than not enough, and that just because things
sometimes work out on their own does not mean that they always will.

A minister told me about one of his
early crisis experiences.  A very upset
and frightened lady in her middle forties came to his home one evening in real
desperation.  Her husband was a successful
physician in the community; his gambling had started innocently enough with a
Tuesday night poker game and an occasional trip to the racetrack.  He had gradually started gambling in amounts
that far exceeded what he and his family could afford to lose, and the squeeze
had come.  He had borrowed against his
house and everything else he had of value. 
Over a period of a year or so, his surgical practice had deteriorated
because of his preoccupation with gambling and the resulting debts.  That afternoon, he and his wife had had a
terrible argument over the situation, and she was terrified about what might
become of him and the family.  “Will you
please go talk with him,” was her plea to the minister.  “I can’t help him unless he wants help,” was
the stock reply.  I’ve said the same
thing, haven’t you?  One of our employees
or co-workers, one of our friends or neighbors, a member of our family, or even
someone we don’t know very well, wants us to try to help.  They want us to become involved in their
problem and they ask us to try to talk with someone for them.  It is my hope that this book will help you
get to the place where you can tell the “dogfights” from the real crisis
situations, and that you will be able to intervene effectively when
intervention is justified.  You will
still get a little too involved once in a while, but you will rarely refrain
from getting involved when you really should.

I was recently talking with a
deputy sheriff and a city policewoman after one of a series of crisis
intervention training classes that were part of a more broadly oriented police
training school.  It surprised me a
little to learn how frequently police are called in to respond to emotional and
social crises.  For many people, the
police are their first resource when they are involved in or observe severe
arguments or blowups within families, apparent drug reactions by teenagers and
young adults, heightened social tension within schools and community groups,
and when things are generally getting out of hand and people cannot think of
anyone else to call.  It is very
important for the police not to increase tension, to avoid making people more
angry and agitated, to refrain from exceeding their authority, and, above all,
to avoid overreacting.  Nonetheless, both
the deputy and the policewoman expressed a sincere desire to help people who
really need help.  With their improved
understanding of the social interaction nature of conflict and crisis, they
felt that “crisis communication” was a tool that would make them more effective
in their efforts to get people to slow down, calm down, think things through,
and plan ahead.  For the police, as with
the rest of us, there is nothing they can do about what has already
happened.  But being able to see the
potential cumulative effects—that is, the snowballing effects of a situation—and
being able to respond in a way that gets people to slow down and calm down will
take the crisis potential out of the situation and effectively keep matters
from getting worse.  Interestingly, the
police officers indicated that in these kinds of situation a crime usually has
not been committed.  With that in mind,
the officers see crisis intervention and crisis communication as improving
their skills in crime prevention.  Their
real enthusiasm, though, stemmed from the fact that they have acquired a new
and felt ability to help people in extreme social and emotional difficulties.

School principals and family
physicians tell me about a problem they have in common.  An unexpectedly high proportion of their time
with parents, students, and patients relates to social and emotional conflict
and crisis.  The school principals talk
about irate parents who feel that school has mistreated or mishandled their
children, students who feel that they have been treated unfairly or who are
reacting in a depressed or angry way to something that has happened with their
friends or family, and teachers who are sure that they can run the school
better than the principal or who are at their wit’s end with a particular
student or group of students.  While we
are talking about school people, superintendents of school districts have all
of this plus the added burden of citizens and citizen groups who know that
education isn’t like it used to be and want to know why.  Teachers, principals, superintendents, school
counselors, and anyone else who deals with kids a lot in an education setting—as
a Scout master, 4H leader, or anything else—it seems are seen as experts on all
aspects of children and their adjustment. 
They talk about parents and kids who have come to them to complain about
or express concern about one another. 
Kids think parents are unfair, unreasonable, and that the best solution
is to run away from home, quit trying, get into trouble, or do something else
equally drastic.  Physicians tell me that
much of their practice consists of people who are expressing physical symptoms
that are caused by or related to emotional and social upheavals.  Some of those people are spontaneously able
to relate their difficulty to marital problems, depression, social situations,
or other things in their life that are causing stress and tension.  Quite often, though, the family doctor is
called no matter what goes wrong.  People
are not experiencing any real medical emergency but are experiencing social and
emotional crisis.

School people and physicians alike,
then, are asked to deal with and help people in all kinds of social and
emotional crises.  They do not have time
for either short- or long-term counseling or therapy, and even if they did,
they usually do not have time to develop the skills of a psychiatrist, psychologist,
or psychiatric social worker.  Had they
wanted to do that, they would not have gotten their degrees in education or
medicine.  What they want and what this
book has to offer is a well-grounded, common-sense, person-to-person approach
to conflict, crisis, intense emotional and social difficulties, and
deteriorating interpersonal relationships. 
Students in mental health disciplines and volunteers training for
service with hot lines and drop-in centers, a wide range of professionals and
others daily involved with people in stress and in tension-laden situations
should find it helpful in their efforts to understand real people with real

In its historical development,
crisis intervention has been a somewhat bastardized version of long-term therapy
and counseling.  In both New York and California,
crisis intervention was initially conceptualized as “short-term therapy.”  This book is about neither counseling nor
therapy.  It is about people like you and
me helping people like you and me to cope with situations that arise if and
when things get out of hand.  We can use
this approach to crisis intervention, crisis communication, and relationship
building to help our students, patients, clients, friends, co-workers, family
members, employees, and even to help ourselves when we are in crisis.

A cure for everything?  Definitely not.  Crisis with its concomitant intense social
and emotional conflict is not an all-the-time or forever thing.  It is something that comes up once in a while
for most of us and frequently for some of us. 
When the boiler is about to blow, we can get it to cool down and can
thus prevent the explosion.  We, or the
other people involved, may need help—a lot of help—to get things straightened
out and working smoothly again.  Ours is
a first aid or emergency intervention. 
At times, that’s all that is needed. 
At other times, much more may be needed after things are cooled off.  Even though what we do is limited and fairly
specific, if we just let things blow or do not know how to keep them from
blowing, there may be nothing left to work on later.  We are talking about a limited kind of
problem, a limited area of knowledge, and a limited set of skills.  We are, nonetheless, dealing with an area of
life that our very human interest in each other presses us to deal with.  Whether it is part of our job, part of our
volunteer work, or part of our trying to live with and deal with one another,
knowing when to help and how to help is “where the action is” for most of us.

As you come to know the many people
you will find in the pages of this book, you may get the impression that crisis
just reaches out and grabs a person.  You
might also get the feeling that people in crisis always call the hot line, their
minister, their family doctor, the police, or go to a drop-in center or
emergency service.  Both of these
impressions would be wrong.  Probably
most people in crisis don’t seem unusually distraught and don’t turn to
volunteers or professionals for help. 
They talk with their family or friends. 
I have tried to construct situation and develop realistic people you can
relate to and remember.  Crisis
intervention is a conceptual thinking process but it is also a feeling, doing
process.  As you become involved (inevitably)
in crisis and intense conflict situations. 
I hope you will remember the people you have met and will relate their
problems and intense emotions to the situation with which you are dealing.  That is, in part, why emphasis has been given
to clearly picturing emotions and typical situations in a way that may make
them seem a little unusual.  To get you
to relate the material to your own experience, your own life, and to situation
with which you may come in contact, let me tell you about Bill and Linda
Green’s quiet crisis.

I was at home one evening, when the
dogs started announcing the arrival of a car in the driveway.  It was Ed, my chess-playing buddy.  He didn’t want to play chess that evening.  Ed and his wife Judy had come to talk about
their friends, Bill and Linda Green.  Bill
had been talking to Ed that afternoon on their way home from work—they
sometimes ride together.  Ed had asked
“How’s the family?” and was shocked to hear Bill reply, “Linda and I are
getting a divorce.”  Ed thought Bill was
kidding and made a few of those wisecracks guys make to each other when
marriage problems are mentioned.  “No,
it’s true.  Linda was going to call our
attorney this afternoon to see about a dissolution,” was Bill’s rather
matter-of-fact reply.  “We still love
each other and all that, but we just don’t have anything to talk about.  I talk to everyone else but not to Linda, and
she talks to everyone else but not to me. 
Last night we got to talking about our not talking.  Somehow a divorce came up, and we decided we
might as well, since there seems to be nothing left of our relationship.”  Ed fumbled and stammered the rest of the way
home and hit Judy with the news as soon as he got in the door.  She immediately called Linda to see if it
were true.  Linda told her that it was
and that she had an appointment with the attorney the next day.

Ed and Judy went over to Bill and
Linda’s house later on but hadn’t gotten very far.  Bill and Linda seemed quite willing to talk
with Ed and Judy about the situation but no better solution than a divorce had
developed.  Ed and Judy had now come to
me to see if I had any ideas about how they could help with what they perceived
to be a real crisis.  Of course their
perception was accurate.  Bill and Linda
were in the process of making a life-altering decision in a most quiet and
highly civilized way.  Ed and Judy really
wanted to persuade me to talk with Bill and Linda.  I didn’t know them at all but agreed with Ed
and Judy’s conclusion that my going to talk with them wouldn’t make things any
worse and had at least some potential for helping.

After some awkward introductions
and letting Bill and Linda know that I knew they were having problems, I asked
Bill, “Do you really want a divorce or is it that you really want for Linda to
talk with you more?”  The dam broke, and
a flood of emotions came out.  There was
a real mix of fear, anger, frustration, desperation, love, affection, hate, and
about every other emotion you can imagine. 
Bill didn’t want a divorce; he wanted Linda.  Above all, he wanted to be “civilized” about
it.  If a divorce was what she really
wanted, then that was what he really wanted for her.  “Me want a divorce?  You’re the one who brought it up.  I just want us to be happy and for us to live
together and talk with each other like normal people.”  Linda’s emotions were as intense and as
varied as Bill’s.  So did they kiss and
live happily ever after?  No.  They are fighting, arguing, and really trying
to negotiate a relationship with which they both can live and be
comfortable.  Will they successfully
build this new relationship?  I don’t
know, but at least they canceled the appointment with the attorney and haven’t
scheduled another one yet.  Are they
seeing me or someone else for marriage counseling?  No. 
They are both fairly strong-willed and self-reliant people who figure
that if they can’t work it out between themselves, no one else can help them
work it out.  They are even closer
friends with Ed and Judy, though, and I haven’t heard from them since that

However, things turn out with Bill
and Linda, Ed and Judy did not make the mistake I had made with Jerry back in
my undergraduate days.  Their friendship
with and concern for Bill and Linda was strong enough and mature enough for
them to run the risk of losing the friendship, get themselves too involved, and
expose themselves to a possibly uncomfortable and embarrassing situation.  Caring is a commitment to try to understand,
to feel, and to do all we can to help….

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