Recall our earlier example in which Dick learned of his wife’s marital infidelity. Were we not to intervene, the outcome might be that Dick could pack his bags and leave. As we look at that crisis, we see that the precipitating event (Dick’s learning of his wife’s infidelity) is not amenable to influence or change. There is nothing that can be done to change that situation. However, our intervention can lead to an alternative and less destructive outcome. For example, through discussion and understanding, Dick may realize that “leaving home immediately” may be a less desirable option than staying at home until he and his wife work out other arrangements. This does not mean that he necessarily will or should reconcile with his wife. It only means that he stays at home until a better and less destructive plan can be worked out. This enables Dick to avoid the possible “snowball” effect of leaving now.
As a further example, suppose the crisis involves a teenager who has left home and is “tripped out” on drugs. As we think about his predicament with him, we learn that his leaving home was precipitated by a serious argument with his parents over curfew hours. We became sufficiently involved with the teenager and his crisis so that we both understand that the curfew precipitated the crisis, and we have explored the possible consequences of being away from home and “tripping out” on drugs. Intervention might be directed toward these undesirable consequences or effects of the crisis. We may use the crisis communication skills (discussed in a later section of this text) to “talk him down” from his bad trip. At the same time, we might encourage the teenager to consider the option of returning home and accepting the curfew and at the same time, with his permission, talking with his parents about the possibility of counseling or guidance for the family. In crisis intervention, our goal is to modify or change the effects or outcomes of the crisis, modify or change situations or conditions precipitating the crisis, or achieve some “change mix” in both causes and outcomes.
How much change is required? It is important to remember that our intervention needs to promote only enough change in either causes or consequences to decrease the now potential and/or to increase the self-resolution factor. Generally, our intervention does not resolve or eliminate the conflict between the individual and his total situation. More probably, it will lead only to reducing the crisis state to the conflict state. A crisis is an emergency. Crisis intervention removes the emergency dimension of the situation. In this sense, crisis intervention is a first aid or symptomatic relief procedure.
Understanding that the goal of crisis intervention is the modification of the precipitating event and/or the reduction or elimination of undesirable consequences or outcomes is difficult for most newcomers to crisis intervention to grasp. Our natural tendency is to feel a responsibility to resolve or remove the conflict existing between the individual and his total situation. In the case of the teenager “tripped out” on drugs, for example, we are motivated to help him work out what is probably a long-standing and very involved conflict between him and his parents. Our understanding of crisis intervention and our orientation to the social interaction model, however, should curb this tendency to be excessively enthusiastic and optimistic about how much we can or should accomplish. If, during our involvement in crisis situations, we make an extra effort to establish and maintain crisis focus, we will maintain a more realistic view of our purposes and abilities. We need to remember that our goal is to resolve the crisis rather than to eliminate or substantially modify the on-going conflict.