Crisis intervention

Author: Ruth Forbes

Glossary and Credits


Crisis: A crisis is a perceived turning point or upset in a person’s psychological equilibrium. Crises may be precipitated by a single overwhelming catastrophe or a series of smaller events. A crisis is not necessarily an emergency or urgent situation. Crises may emanate from events external to the person or from internal dynamics – though there is often an interaction.

Crisis intervention: A method of social work practice which focuses on ways in which personal crises can be managed and harnessed to promote positive growth and change.

Coping strategy: A set of actions or plan adopted to overcome perceived difficulties or threats and to meet needs.

Cognitive restructuring: The process of challenging and changing distorted or exaggerated views of reality.

Defence mechanism: An unconscious way of protecting the self from anxiety. A key concept in psychoanalytic theory.


  • Caplan, G. (1965) Principles of Preventive Psychiatry. London: Tavistock.
  • Couslhed, V. and Orme, J. (1998) Social Work Practice: an introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Erikson, E. (1965) Childhood and Society. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • O’Hagan, K. (1994) “Crisis Intervention: changing perspectives”. In C. Harvey and T. Philpot (eds), Practising Social Work. London: Routledge.
  • Pierson, J. and Thomas, M. (2002) Dictionary of Social Work. Glasgow: Harper Collins.
  • Rapoport, L. (1970) Crisis intervention as a mode of brief treatment”. In R.W. Roberts and R.H. Nee (eds), Theories of Social Casework. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Thompson, N. (1970) Crisis Intervention Revisited: a guide to modern practice. Birmingham: PEPAR Publications.

Author information

Ruth Forbes is a tutor in social work at the University of Edinburgh. She teaches social work theories and models and has extensive experience as a freelance practitioner, trainer, and counsellor. Ruth has a practice background in work with children and families, adoption and fostering and psychiatric social work.


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