Next comes the individual’s total situation. This includes everything external to him that affects him or is affected by him. It includes friends, pets, his job, house and car, the weather, bill collectors, and so on, until we have listed everything and everyone in his total situation. This is his “now.” It is his present, including people, relationships, things, circumstances, events, and so on. The individual’s total situation also includes “then” and “when.” “Then” is the individual’s past, and it shapes and affects the way things are now in his present. It is important to see that “when” is not the future; rather it is the way the individual feels or thinks the future will be when certain things happen or do not happen, when he does or does not accomplish some goal, if circumstances change or do not change, and so on. It is not how things actually will be, but rather, it is how the individual thinks things probably will be.
Of course, “then” and “now” are also, for the individual, a blend of actual events and circumstances, on the one hand, and his perception of those events and circumstances, on the other. It is important to understand, however, that “when” is an anticipated set of events and circumstances combined with the individual’s feelings and anxieties about those events and circumstances. It is this anticipatory anxiety that gives “when” it’s special significance in crisis situations.
In such situations it is common to find that the individual’s perception of future events, within the context of his total situation, has a significant influence on his present feelings, emotions, attitudes, ideas, judgments, and so on.
Figure 2 emphasizes the point that understanding the individual’s total situation “now” necessarily involves not only understanding his “then” but also includes understanding his “when.” Effective intervention in crisis situations requires that we bring together our understanding of the whole person with an understanding of his total situation. This understanding will probably be somewhat sketchy, but our goal is to develop a mental picture of the individual and his total situation. Such a picture, although lacking in full detail, will include an outline of important family, business, and friendship relationships; important social, economic, and environmental factors; and a sensitivity for strong emotions, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes. It represents, for us, a real “feel” for the individual and his total situation. When we are dealing with crises, time does not permit the development of inclusive or exhaustive detail. We are instead pressed for a general understanding of the individual and what is happening with him now.
Our understanding of the individual and his present situation will probably begin with an understanding of his present emotional state. Is he nervous or calm, angry or sad, upset or relatively peaceful? We will then try to develop some understanding of his social environment. If we are talking with a child, we will want to know how he is getting along with his family, in school, with other children, with his brothers and sisters. If we are talking with a teenager, we will want to combine these areas with some questions about boy-girl relationships. If we are talking with an adult, we will want to include questions about family, employment, and other adult situations. We may want to inquire about his physical health and see if he has any special difficulties in dealing with day-to-day situations. We may want to be alert to any suggestion of sexual, moral, or spiritual difficulty. There will be instances in which we will want to inquire about how adequately the individual’s needs for food, clothing, and shelter are being met. If the person has called us on the hot line, we may want to know something about where he is, his living circumstances, and so on. As this understanding of his present situation develops, we may want to ask what kind of events and circumstances in his past life are especially affecting his present situation. In addition, we will want to know a little about how he thinks the future will be, what the outcome of his problem might be, how things will be when the crisis is over. In general we want to understand his “then,” “when,” and “now,” his total situation, and him as an individual. It is important to stress that this picture of the crisis may well be somewhat sketchy and may not necessarily include the same details in each situation. Here, it is enough to think about the kinds of things that may be important in and contribute to crisis situations.