The final phase of the assessment comes after we have developed an understanding of the cause or causes of the individual’s crisis. Our understanding of possible causes includes “possible effects.” An example may serve to clarify the point. Suppose your married daughter calls you one afternoon, and she is quite upset and crying. From some of the things she says, you get that fear in the pit of your stomach that comes with recognition that someone may be suicidal. At a minimum, she is confused and hysterical. We have some ideas about what might have caused these intense emotions and feelings. In addition, we know that people who become that upset are very “caught up” in their own feelings and emotions. Frequently, one effect of this intense self-concern is to forget or to be unable to deal with other responsibilities, for example, the care of young children. As you respond to your daughter and her crisis, discussion about her children may not develop spontaneously. Our knowledge about this kind of crisis, though, should prompt us to inquire about the children. Where are they? Who is taking care of them? We know that one possible effect of the mother’s crisis may be her unintentional neglect of her children. It is our responsibility to be aware of this possible effect of her crisis and to check out the situation.
As you think about the possible causes of a variety of crisis situations, you begin to develop notions of possible effects or undesirable situations that frequently accompany such crises. Considering and thinking about this dimension of crisis intervention will stimulate your imagination and enable you to foresee possible consequences by drawing on your own experience and common sense.
Brenda, age nine, is in the middle of a very complicated crisis. Do you remember the little poem about the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead? When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid. Well, this describes Brenda, except that she was terrible most of the time. She would not behave on the school bus, was always getting into fights with other children, would not do her schoolwork, almost never obeyed her teacher, and was undoubtedly the biggest problem in her elementary school. She either could not or would not stand still, sit still, or be still. For the third time that week, her teacher bolted into the principal’s office, saying, “It’s Brenda again! She came back inside at recess and took every single pencil in the room and did something with them. I don’t know where they are. We can’t have school without pencils. I’ve had it! Either she goes or I go!” The teacher had said that before, the principal believed that she really might do it this time. The pencil incident was the final straw. The principal had a real crisis on his hands. To placate the teacher, and with no better ideas occurring to him, he expelled Brenda until her parents could give some assurance that her behavior would improve. The unseen effects of his action were numerous. The teacher was still thinking about Brenda when she returned home that evening. By that time, she had begun to see some humor in the pencil episode, and she wondered if expelling Brenda might not have been excessively harsh. She knew that Brenda had specific learning disorders and had a lot of difficulty controlling her emotions and behavior. She was preoccupied about it that evening and became fairly nervous and irritable. Her husband’s efforts to reassure and comfort her just ended up in a big fight. Things got so bad that even her own teenage children got involved in the argument. The teacher and her family finally got things worked out that evening and came to the conclusion that the principal had overreacted and probably did not know what he was doing, anyway. The teacher came back to school the next day convinced that the principal was incompetent and blaming him for the impulsive way with which the problem had been dealt.
The superintendent of the school district learned about the episode and called the principal in for a conference. As it turned out, the principal’s action was probably appropriate, but he should have advised the superintendent before taking such drastic action. The principal said, “I just forgot. It was the third time that week that this situation had come to my attention, and I just took action without thinking things through very clearly.”
Now what happened to Brenda? When her parents learned she had been expelled, they were even more convinced that the school did not understand their daughter and did not really care about what happened to her. They had been involved in many conferences at school and were receiving help from the local mental health clinic. What do those people expect from us? We are doing everything we can possibly do. Do they want us to beat her? How do they expect us to solve the problem when the professionals at the mental health center don’t know how to solve it? The parents had this discussion at the supper table, and Brenda’s brothers and sisters thought the pencil episode was very funny. They could just see Brenda’s teacher storming into the principal’s office and telling him about the incident. Brenda? She had a good supper, got a vicarious satisfaction out of seeing her parents so angry with the school, enjoyed the attention from her brothers and sisters and their amusement with her prank, took a nice hot bath, and went to sleep, dreaming about whatever nine-year-old girls dream about.
The principal’s effort to deal with the crisis had many unseen effects. Interestingly, however, his action had little, if any, effect on Brenda. What was the cause of the crisis? Of course the cause was Brenda’s behavior at recess. The principal’s intervention was directed at the cause of the crisis. His hope was that his action would lead to a change in Brenda’s behavior, but he probably only served to reinforce her undesirable behavior pattern. As we intervene in crises, thinking about the unseen effects of the crisis and of our intervention will increase our effectiveness, and perhaps more importantly, careful attention on unseen effects will decrease the likelihood that our intervention will make things worse. In crisis intervention, sometimes we will help, sometimes we will not help, but we want to do everything we can to be sure that we do not make matters worse.