How do we help an individual in crisis deal with the content of that crisis? We gently encourage him to become involved with us in the assessment set. First, we want to think with them about the precipitating event and what happened. We know that the conflict is in the interaction and that the precipitating event disrupted the interaction between the individual and his situation. We also know that the precipitating event occurred fairly recently. It may be true that the conflict has been going on for a long time. But the crisis was precipitated by a fairly recent event, a worsening of the conflict, some exacerbation of the difficulty in the interaction.
Frequently, people in crisis will not be particularly receptive to this notion. They will want to blame themselves, see the cause as originating in the past, or, more often than one might think, try to convince us that the crisis has no cause.
Harold says, “My relationships with my family, friends, fellow workers, and so on, are fine. They are all wonderful people. Don’t try to blame them for this. I really haven’t done anything, either. Nothing has happened. This just came over me, and there is no reason for it.”
Our understanding of crisis and of the crisis intervention process lets us know that crises always have a precipitating event. In crisis communication, then, we gently but persistently encourage the individual to think about himself, his situation, and the interaction between him and his situation until we both can see what caused the crisis. Usually, discovering and understanding the precipitating event is not particularly difficult. Sometimes, though, we must be very patient and skillful to get to where both of us understand “what happened.”
We can see now that the assessment set is not for our benefit or information; rather it is an important part of crisis communication. As such, it helps the individual assess his own crisis and helps him gradually start to use his own thinking and planning skills. Once we have enabled him to analyze and understand the precipitating event, we gradually start developing our “picture” of the crisis. We think, with the individual, about the most important aspects of his situation, himself, and the interaction between himself and his situation. Through this process of looking at the individual, his situation, and the interaction, we can gradually come to understand the conflict in the interaction in relationship to the precipitating event. This, in turn, helps us better to understand the present crisis. Important, however, is the fact that this understanding is not for our benefit. The goal is to help the individual understand his situation, the interaction, the conflict, the precipitating event, and, thus, the crisis. The communication content helps the individual think more clearly, analyze more thoroughly, and plan more carefully. He uses our skills to enhance or supplement his own skills.
Continuing to combine our concern for crisis color with the assessment set, communication content moves from the precipitating event and our “picture” of the crisis to potential cumulative and unseen effects of his crisis and of the things he is thinking about doing. In addition, we will draw from our understanding of the specific type of crisis to ask questions about possible undesirable effects.