TOC Next Previous

MESSAGES AND RESPONSES


Figure 5 finds the individual in
another crisis, but this time he has the good fortune to be in the
communication loop with you.  You are
skilled at crisis communication and are focusing your intervention hypothesis
on the need to help the individual slow down, and plan ahead.







In crisis communication, there is a
communication loop in which messages, ideas, feelings, and so on, are sent out
by the individual in crisis, picked up by you, and returned to the individual
in a slightly modified and clarified form. 
Understanding this communication loop and the techniques involved in
modifying and clarifying these messages, ideas, and feelings represents an
important and valuable skill when working with people in crisis.


First, we need to consider the
interactive nature of communication and of helping relationships.  At an abstract level, a person in crisis is
internally experiencing various and sometimes conflicting feelings, emotions,
impulses, urges, and so on.  Within the
individual, then, is a confusing and possibly disturbing mix of things that contributes
to his feelings of uneasiness and crisis.


Second, we want to help him feel
better and become better able to deal with his situation.  Within us are a variety of skills and ideas,
including a knowledge of the crisis intervention process.  Somehow, the individual needs to communicate
what is going on within him.  At the same
time, and this must be emphasized, we need to make our knowledge and skills
available to him.


Somehow, the individual in crisis
needs to translate his feelings, emotions, ideas, and so on into messages and
convey those messages to us.  We will, in
turn, need to decode the messages, interpret them in light of our knowledge and
skills, and respond to the individual. 
He will then take in our response and send us another message.  This interaction process of messages and responses
may be verbal or nonverbal.  Nonverbal
communication is probably familiar to all of us.  We get and give messages by touching, by the
way we look or act, through gestures and posture, and so on.  Whether the messages and responses are verbal
or nonverbal, however, the purpose of the communication loop in crisis
intervention is crisis reduction.


Betty is your neighbor and has
stopped over for a cup of coffee.  As you
listen to her, think how difficult it is for her to translate her feelings,
ideas, and emotions into meaningful messages. 
You want to help her focus on her immediate crisis situation, develop a
picture of her crisis, and begin to think about possible solutions to her
problems.  This process starts by helping
her to talk with you in a meaningful way. 
As we see, this is not so easy as one might think at first.


Betty sits on the edge of her
chair, seems uncomfortable, and keeps fidgeting, putting her arms first on the
arms of the chair and then in her lap, looking at you and then looking around
the room, and then tentatively reaches toward her cigarettes lying on the
kitchen table.  Your best intention to
talk to her without any interruptions gets off to a bad start.  Your phone rings just as you start to talk,
and she waits nervously as you talk with the store manager about your new
television set that has never worked right. 
As you hang up the telephone, you say to her, “That’s just been one big
headache.  For that much money you should
at least get something that works.”  “At
least I haven’t been having any problems like that lately,” Betty replies with
apparent disinterest.  “What kind of
problems have you been having?” you ask.


“I don’t know how to explain it to
you.  You’ll probably think it’s
silly.  [You say: Our family and our problems
are really serious to us and are never silly.] 
That’s for sure.  It’s really
serious to me.  Maybe most people
wouldn’t think it’s such a big thing, but it’s a big thing to me.  [Betty seems to be deep in thought and rolls
her cigarette in her fingers.  She looks
at you, then back at the cigarette, then back at you.]  It’s my husband.  I don’t think I love him anymore.  At least I guess I don’t love him.  I must not. 
[You ask: Have you and he been having trouble?]  I didn’t think so, but I guess we must
be.  He says I’m boring to him and stays
away all the time.  If I loved him
enough, he’d want to stay home more. 
Home must not be a very nice place for him.  He’d rather be out with his friends than with
me and the kids.  [Her eyes began to tear
a little, and she sniffles.]  I don’t
know what’s wrong.  We have a nice house,
and I try to take care of it.  You can’t
spend all of your time being pretty and paying all of your attention to him
with kids and dirty dishes and scrubbing floors.  My little girl’s teacher said I had to come
in for a conference.  [You can see that
there is real difficulty in the relationship between Betty and her
husband.  She feels that he wants her to be
something she cannot be.  She is
beginning to feel more relaxed, and her thoughts are apparently moving from
here to there.  She lets you know that
she is also concerned about her daughter and the conference with the
teacher.  You ask: Did the teacher give
you any idea about why she wanted to talk with you?}  “No. But the way things have been going, I’m
sure it’s not good.”


When people come to us, they always
have a purpose or reason for talking with us about their situation.  It is worth a moment’s thought to consider
how you would feel taking your personal problems to someone else.  It is likely that you would feel somewhat
uncomfortable, perhaps a little embarrassed, and certainly unsure about how
your personal feelings and ideas would be dealt with.  Betty was initially uncomfortable and wanted
to be sure that she was going to be taken seriously and that there would be
enough time to really think about her situation.  She was nervous and a little confused at
first about how she should go about explaining her predicament.  Your knowledge of people and their situations
led you to the hunch that she may be having difficulty with her family.  Had she said No in response to your question
about her family, you would have moved on to inquire about other possible
problem areas.  For Betty, it was enough
to focus her attention on her family. 
She was able to pick up on that and begin to talk about some of her
difficulties.


Notice that she shifted rather
abruptly from the discussion about her husband to the teacher’s request for a
conference.  In the initial phase of most
crisis contacts, people will tend to jump from topic to topic in this abrupt
fashion.  At the beginning of the
process, it is important to “go with the shift.”  Your questions and comments should relate to
the different problems brought up by the individual.  For now, it is important to help him begin to
talk about his problems and to help him feel comfortable expressing his very
personal feelings and ideas.  You are
someone who will help him talk, and someone with whom he feels comfortable
talking.  Later, there will be time to
keep the focus on one topic or problem at a time.




TOC Next Previous