TOC Next Previous


Following from our considerations
of crisis focus, crisis definition, and cumulative effects, let us now focus
our attention on causes and effects. 
Figure 4 indicates that our question is, “What could cause a crisis like
this one?”  It is important to see that
the question is not “What did cause?” but rather, “What could cause?”  For example, what could cause someone to want
to kill himself?  What could cause
someone to become extremely upset or hysterical?  What could cause a teenager to want to run
away from home?  What could cause someone
to want to quit his job?  What could
cause someone to abuse or misuse drugs or alcohol?

The focus on “could cause” is, on
one hand, a relatively simple notion but, on the other hand one that goes
against our usual way of thinking about problems.  Typically, we look at a problem and want to
know in detail, the situations, circumstances and events leading to the
specific problem.  In crisis
intervention, however, we need to have in mind a set of likely causes of a variety
of crisis situations.  When we are dealing
with a person in crisis, we need to know the most likely causes of a crisis
such as the one we now see.  For example,
the three most likely causes for crises involving threats of suicide are:
severe marital or family difficulty or disruption, having done something or
having experienced a situation that causes extreme feelings of guilt or
worthlessness, or some external event that threatens an individual’s social
and/or economic well-being.  For each
type of crisis situation with which we deal, there are one or more likely
causes.  As we look at the individual and
his crisis, we want to consider the kinds of things that probably have caused
his crisis.

Understanding the possible causes
for crisis reinforces the social interaction characteristic of this crisis
intervention model.  The model argues
that crises always involve disruption or conflict within the interaction
between the individual and his total situation. 
Possible causes of crises, then, always relate to factors, situations,
conditions, and so on, that cause conflict or disruption in the
interaction.  As we know, crises are
caused, or “set off,” by precipitating events. 
Our own life experience, our experience with people in conflict, our
supplementary reading, and our understanding of precipitating events help us
understand the kinds of things likely to cause a variety of crisis
situations.  If a teenager runs away from
home, he has probably experienced a “blow up” with his parents; has had a
significant problem at school or with one or more of his friends; or has been
tempted by the opportunity to be on his own or with his girl friend or
boyfriend.  If a child appears to be
extremely fearful and apprehensive on his first day of school, the likelihood
is that he is afraid to move out from the protection and shelter provided by
his mother.  As you encounter various
crisis situations, it becomes increasingly less difficult to speculate about
the possible problems and factors in an individual’s interaction that were
sufficient to cause the crisis.

We see the crisis and have a good
understanding of the situations, circumstances, and events that could cause
this kind of problem.  Our next step is
to look carefully at the individual and his total situation in order to
discover what caused his particular crisis. 
Knowing that gives us two special advantages.  First, we know “what a cause looks
like.”  This point may seem trivial, but
it is important to be able to recognize a cause when we see it or are told
about it.  People in crisis are
frequently unable to tell us what happened or to explain what caused the crisis
situation.  They tend to attribute
causality to situations or circumstances that are either too far removed from
the crisis to have caused it or else are only incidentally related to it.  For example, a young man becomes extremely
tense and depressed.  We ask him, “What
happened?”  He says, “I don’t know.  I have never been a very happy person and
have been nervous since I was a child. 
It must have something to do with my background.”  Our understanding of crisis and our
orientation to precipitating events tell us that, although what he says is
probably true, this does not explain why he suddenly became tense and
depressed.  Something must have happened to
precipitate the present crisis.  This
understanding leads us to ask additional questions and helps us keep him
focused on the present situation and what happened to make things worse
today.  We would probably ask if anything
unusual happened at work, at school, with his family or friends, and so
on.  With our understanding of possible
causes, we can help him discover circumstances that might have caused his
present crisis.  This helps him focus on
the real problem instead of on possibly irrelevant or tangential events or

A clear notion of the most likely
possible causes of crisis also enables us to help people think in a relevant
way about what happened when they are feeling confused, somewhat disoriented,
or are having difficulty organizing their thinking and feelings.  Moreover, the individual will develop
feelings of security and trust because we understand what causes people to find
themselves in crisis and are able to understand how things got that way.

Let us emphasize a point that may
be easily overlooked.  Since the crisis
developed now or at least in the immediate past, the cause or at least a major
portion of the cause also occurred in the immediate past.  As we work with people in crisis, we will
remember the significance of the precipitating event, and we will continue our
search for it until we have found it.  In
crisis intervention, our commitment to the individual is in part an implicit
agreement to continue our involvement with him until the crisis is resolved and
until both of us understand what happened.

TOC Next Previous