Crisis intervention

Author: Ruth Forbes

What is a crisis?

It’s tempting to make assumptions about the meaning of words like ‘crisis’. It’s often used to imply disaster or catastrophe. It can mean this, but not necessarily.

Veronica Coulshed (1998) wrote that: 'Teams talk about crises when they mean that an urgent referral has come in or that they can only 'do crisis work', that is engage in minimal activity because of overwork.' In other words, what might really be meant here is that a high volume of work needs to be prioritised in terms of response and allocation. Although a crisis might entail drama, panic and chaos, what emerges on closer scrutiny is the highly subjective nature of both the identification of a crisis, and the experience of being in crisis.

Now lets compare your earlier definition of ‘crisis’ with definitions offered in the literature on crisis intervention.

Rapoport (1970) states that:

'A crisis is an upset in a steady state.'

Pierson and Thomas (2002) are a little more specific, suggesting that, “(a crisis) is precipitated by hazardous events which may be a single catastrophe or a series of mishaps…(crises) may be brought about by something external to the person or by something that appears rooted in him or her.”

Some life events are so dramatic they would create a crisis for most people - for example the death of a loved one, the sudden onset of illness, an accident or physical assault. However, even in these cases, although there may be some common patterns of response across the population as a whole, individuals will vary significantly in their reactions. Whether a particular individual perceives a specific life event to be a crisis or not, will be highly subjective and influenced by unique biographical experiences and particular ego strengths.