For individuals in crisis, crisis communication must lead to modification and clarification of their feelings, emotions, and ideas, thereby enabling them to better deal with their present situation. For example, if a teenage boy becomes very angry with someone who made a pass at his girl friend and is fighting the impulse to get revenge, crisis communication should modify and defuse his anger while, at the same time, helping to clarify the implications of “seeking revenge.” If a young child has had a very traumatic experience and is withdrawing and turning his feelings in on himself, crisis communication should help him modify his feelings somewhat and enable him to “talk them out.”
In any crisis situation in which our intervention hypothesis directs us to focus on the individual, our goal is to help him modify, clarify, and cope with his feelings and thoughts. Our skill in and knowledge about dealing with feelings and thoughts need to be made available to the individual for his use in understanding and coping with his own thoughts and feelings. Before we became involved, he was dealing with his feelings and thoughts through his own internal communication process. It is, then, our goal to become a part of that internal communication process by letting him “use us” to supplement and support his own communication skills and capacities.
Mr. I is a skilled laborer at a local manufacturing company. You ask him, ‘What’s happening?” He says, “I’m really in a mess,” and he goes on to explain a rather complicated situation to you. As with most people in crisis, he does not present the details in a logical sequence but brings up another problem before finishing the first. He has been laid off from his job and will not start getting his unemployment checks for two or three weeks. He is behind in his bills, and his daughter had surgery a few days ago. His wife is fairly depressed and has been nagging him for weeks. She has gotten to a point where she will not go out of the house even to do the grocery shopping. He built a new set of bookshelves for her in the family room, and she has done nothing but complain about them since he finished. He has a racecar he has been working on for several years. It is just about finished, but his partner will not put up the three hundred dollars of his share to finish the work. He is union steward, and with all the layoffs, everyone expects him to do something about it. He wants to quit as union steward, but his wife accuses him of having no ambition and of not wanting to get ahead. He was in an automobile accident a few months ago, and the other driver is suing him, saying that he injured his back. The accident was not Mr. I’s fault, but his attorney will not defend him in court until Mr. I can come up with enough money to pay the fee. His wife thinks she’s pregnant, and that is his fault too, according to her. His doctor tells him that he should go into the hospital for a few days to have some tests run to see what is causing his headaches and chest pains. On top of all that, his wife’s parents are “on him” about not providing better for his kids and not helping his wife more. Things are really a mess.
From Mr. I’s point of view, nothing is working out; the harder he tries, the worse things get. How can you make your thinking and planning skills available to him? First, it may help if Mr. I can think about his problems in categories. To do so may begin to get the confusion into some manageable order. He has numerous financial difficulties, including his bills, the attorney’s fee, and the money for his racecar. Perhaps it will be helpful if he concentrates on his bills and the attorney’s fee, leaving the racecar problem for the time being. He has several problems involving pressures from other people, including his wife, his in-laws, and his union steward job. Perhaps he could drop the union steward job for the time being, accepting some increased criticism and pressure from his wife. He has some physical problems, including headaches and chest pains. These symptoms are potentially quite serious, and even if they turn out to be a result of his being so upset, it is important for him to follow his doctor’s advice. His wife is depressed and withdrawn. Maybe she would accept a suggestion that she go to the local mental health center for some counseling. It might be helpful if Mr. and Mrs. I went to the center together.
Next, we can help him think about those problems that are extremely important and need immediate attention and those that can wait for a while. Then we can help him think about those difficulties that he can do something about and those that he cannot. For example, he works very hard to provide for his family and his in-laws’ criticism is not really justified. Perhaps they are just critical people. In any event, there is little if anything he can do about that. As we begin to help him think about his situation, his numerous problems will begin to take on some order. At that point, he can begin to work on those things he is able to do something about, recognizing those things that are not open to change and worrying about them less. An old prayer comes to mind. It asks for guidance to change the things we can change, insight to accept the things we cannot change, and the good sense to know the difference. As you talk with Mr. I, you gradually modify and clarify his messages in a way that enables him to plan and think ahead, that is, you make your thinking and planning skills available to him.