Generally, people in crisis want a solution. Fast. But don’t be lured into immediate problem-solving without listening to the entire story and assessing your friend’s emotions and attempts at coping. Help your friend calm down and make immediate decisions. You may need to help directly —call a spouse, drive your friend somewhere, or provide shelter. Determine what can be put off until more thoughtful decisions can be made. Before you finish first-aid helping, try to mobilize personal coping resources and the person’s social resources as well.
Rule #1: Stay Calm, Manage Your Own Crisis
While your friend describes his or her crisis, you’ll get pulled into the emotion and you’ll feel a sense of urgency. Don’t interrupt to tell your own story or make suggestions about how to handle the problems. Don’t ignore either facts or feelings. Also, don’t judge or take sides. Rather, calm your own rising emotion and panic. Employ emotion-focused coping strategies (relaxing, praying for calm, breathing deeply, slowing yourself, telling yourself that you have time to think and not to become swept into the other person’s panic).
Rule #2: Calm Your Friend
Once you have yourself in hand, calm your friend. Buy time so that more reasoned decisions can be made. Don’t make immediate decisions. Instead of having your friend blurt out his or her story, offer coffee, tea, or soda. Move casually and appear relaxed, even if you don’t feel relaxed. (Naturally if someone reports a situation that must be acted on immediately —such as an injury or potentially harmful situation —act speedily, but generally crisis don’t require split-second action.)
Have your friend sit. Speak softly, which will help your friend speak more quietly and less hurriedly. If emotions run high, ask questions that require your friend to think. Give choices, such as “Would you rather talk in here or go outside on the patio?” Whatever causes thought lowers emotion. If you cannot understand your friend because he or she is too disorganized or confused, pause and say, “I want to understand you, but I can’t. Start at the beginning and tell me what happened.” Prompt your friend with questions if he or she omits crucial events.
Rule #3: Listen Before You Give Advice
When you listen to a person who is in crisis, you are sometimes overwhelmed with the emotion pouring out. Ask yourself, “What’s the problem?” If you can’t tell what the problem is, you won’t be able to help solve it. Early in your conversation, determine whether someone might be harmed —either your friend or some other person (perhaps even yourself).
A primary objective of crisis first aid is to ensure people’s safety. Therefore, know the facts. Ask open-ended, not yes-no, questions. you’ll learn more by letting your friend tell what is going on than by trying to guide him or her. Reassure when concerns are easily addressed, but don’t give too much reassurance, which weakens your credibility because you are perceived offering advice when you do not understand the problem.
Rule #4: Think
Your friend’s thoughts have been directed down a narrow channel. As he or she tells the story, your thoughts get directed down the same channel. Don’t get tunnel vision looking down that channel. Don’t leave issues or obstacles to action unexplored because the person dismisses those alternatives. You might see things that a person who is involved in the issue cannot see. Don’t accept a jumble of needs without clarifying them. Get the person to set priorities. Find out what must be done immediately and what can be put off until later.
Rule #5: Explore Alternatives
Don’t try to solve problem now. Use your friend’s priorities to guide your focus. Suggest possible solutions, but be careful. Actions will have consequences, so explore with the person the likely ramifications of all solutions before the person decides to carry out a solution. Encourage the person not to make long-term decisions (such as whether to divorce or separate) now. Instead, emphasize immediate problems (such as where to stay, what to do about deadlines, whether to go home). Explore the obstacles to actions rather than just talking about actions and their consequences.
Rule #6: Choose a Course of Action
People often begin to describe the crisis with a catastrophic conclusion. …Instead of trying immediately to dissuade the person from the most catastrophic possibility, acknowledge that it is indeed one solution, but don’t accept it as the only solution. In crisis, give advice but don’t coerce your friend to accept your advice, regardless of how convinced you are that your advice is sound and your friend’s planned actions portend disaster. Don’t emotionally blackmail your friend. Explore the options and let your friend make his or her own decisions.
Rule #7: Repeat the Plan
Have your friend repeat the plan before leaving. What seems to have been a clear course of action to both of you while he or she was under your calming influence may appear stupid and harmful five minutes after leaving you. Or your friend may feel confused and not recall making a decision. To help your friend remain committed to his or her decision, have him or her repeat the plan. (This will also help you see whether the plan has been understood.)
Rule #8: Follow Up
Don’t assume that your friend will follow through on the plan. Crises often debilitate and immobilize well-meaning people. Get your friend to agree to allow you to phone him or her the next morning or the next day to check on how things went. Establish a concrete plan for the person to link up with an after-care helper, such as the pastor or a counselor. Make that part of the plan and have your friend repeat his or her intentions to contact someone specific for long-term help.
…Secondary Crisis Helping
If you’ve tried to help the person connect with a counselor or pastor who can aid him or her in working through the meaning of the crisis —then you can rest easier about your role in secondary crisis helping. If you can’t get the person to seek help of a counselor, though, you may be asked to provide support and help as the person tries to make sense of the meaning of the crisis.
In secondary crisis helping, like long-term helping, you’ll listen actively and provide support, but you’ll make direct suggestions less often than you did in first aid helping. Your goal during a crisis time is to help your friend return to daily functioning with some understanding of what led to the crisis. It’s also important to know what happened during the crisis, and what the meaning of the crisis was, plus what might be done to avoid a similar crisis in the future.
There is an opportunity for people to seek help for a troubled marriage through crisis counseling. Their vulnerability during the crisis usually makes them aware that they cannot repair their marriage alone; so it often opens the door for God to work in the marriage.
The above article comes from the book, “I Care About Your Marriage,” by Everett Worthington, PhD., published by Moody Press. Unfortunately, this book is no longer being published so the only way you can obtain it is through a used book store.
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