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THE PRECIPITATING EVENT


In Figure 3, the individual has
shifted from the conflict state to the crisis state.  What happened?  Either suddenly or gradually a new conflict
within his interaction developed or an already existing conflict worsened.  We will call the causes of such a crisis
state the “precipitating event.” 
Whatever happened, an existing conflict worsened or a serious new
conflict developed.  We will say that the
precipitating event “set off” or caused the crisis.  When we are dealing with people in crisis,
then, one of our first questions will be: “What happened?”  Our effort here is to move gradually toward
crisis reduction.







When seeking precipitating events,
the tendency is to look for complex psychological or social causes.  This leads to very complicated notions of
cause and to considering factors, situations, conditions, and circumstances
substantially removed in time from the crisis. 
In the social interaction model, emphasis is place on a precipitating
event immediately preceding the present crisis. 
The individual in crisis is a complex human being; his total situation
is similarly complex.  Moreover, the
conflict between the individual and his situation may be complex.  However, the precipitating event tends to
have the quality of the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  Something relatively definable brought the
interaction to a crisis point.


Aaron, age twenty-two, comes in to
the twenty-four-hour drop-in service at 3:30 a.m.  He tells a rather confused and disconnected
story, indicating that he could not sleep and had to talk to someone.  His wife is five months’ pregnant and has
worked at a Laundromat for two years. 
She is twenty-three.  He has lived
in this area for five years but has no close relatives or friends.  Until a few months ago, she was fine.  They talked about what they would name the
baby and how things would be after the baby arrived.  He pays her support, the rent on her
apartment, doctor bills, and so on.  She
always wanted a baby, but she also seemed to want everything else: a new car,
furniture, clothes, vacations, and so on. 
She has left him before.  Last
February, she was gone but sent him a beautiful card expressing her love and
telling him how much she cared for him. 
They have been married for almost four years and have a beautiful
house.  His father-in-law does not like
him and will not have anything to do with him. 
His mother-in-law says she is sorry but there is nothing she can do.  They do everything for his brothers-in-law
and their families but never seem to help him and his wife when they need
help.  They always tell her she’s better
off without him.  This hurts him, but his
mother-in-law will talk with him sometimes. 
When his wife leaves, she always spends most of her time at her parent’s
house.  This time she got an apartment
across the street from them.  He was
alone at Christmas.  Their friends would
come over, and one of them told him to get a divorce.  That is when the trouble started.  It was going okay until the sheriff served
papers on him today.  They say he has to
stay away from his wife and cannot see his two-year-old son until the hearing,
which is four weeks away.  That was the
final straw; he cannot even see his own kid now.


As we can see, there is continuing
conflict in the interaction between Aaron and his wife.  Apparently, this conflict extended to Aaron’s
relationships with his mother- and father-in-law.  His friends also seem to be interfering in
his relationship with his wife.  Even
though Aaron’s situation seems very problematic, until now he has been able to
cope with it.  Learning that he would not
be able to see his son, however, was more than he could take, and it
precipitated the crisis seen in the drop-in center.  In most crisis situations, the precipitating
event is not so easily observable. 
Nevertheless, it will always be present in a crisis situation.  In Aaron’s crisis, the precipitating event
exacerbated the continuing conflict between him and his wife.  Getting the papers from the sheriff set off
the crisis.  In other situations, there
may not be a continuing conflict.  The
precipitating event may be something quite unexpected—a totally new set of
circumstances or some other problem arising in an otherwise smooth situation.  Whether a new set of circumstances or new
factors are introduced into the situation, or an existing conflict is made
worse by some new or unexpected event, crisis is always preceded by a
relatively definable and observable precipitating event.


In the terms of Figure 3, calling
the individual’s present state of affairs a “crisis” is to say at least two
things about it.  First, it has high “now
potential,” and second, it has a low “self-resolution factor.”  Let us separately consider these two crisis
characteristics.




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