About Crisis Counseling

If you find yourself in a crisis due to personal choices or circumstances outside of your control, you may feel shut-down, disconnected, helpless, anxious, irritable, depressed, angry or a mix of feelings, emotions or observable behaviors. A crisis is defined as a situation or event where a person feels overwhelmed and/or is unable to cope. In crisis counseling, a therapist works to provide mental health support to his or her client. Many events can trigger a crisis and can include: developmental issues (such as going through puberty), accidents, traumatic experiences, marital issues, infidelity or betrayal, job loss and stress, illness, major transitions and the death of a pet or loved one. Crisis therapy can help individuals deal with the crisis by offering assistance, support and much needed guidance.

What happens during crisis counseling?  Crisis counseling is intended to be brief, but can last longer. This is determined by many factors including an individual's resilience and adaptive coping mechanisms. Crisis therapy is not psychotherapy. Crisis intervention is focused on minimizing the stress of the event, providing emotional support and improving the individual’s coping skills and strategies in the here and now.  While psychotherapy focuses on a wide range of difficulties, crisis assessment and treatment focuses on the client’s immediate situation, including factors such as safety, practical and immediate needs and the consideration of long term goals and outcomes.

While there are a number of different treatment models, there are a number of common elements consistent among the various theories of crisis counseling.

  • Assessing the situation - The first element of crisis intervention therapy involves assessing the client’s current situation. This involves listening to the client, asking questions and determining what the individual needs to effectively cope with the crisis. During this time, the crisis therapy provider needs to define the problem while at the same time provide empathy, acceptance and support. It is also essential to ensure client safety, both physically and psychologically.
  • Education - People who are experiencing a crisis need information about their current condition and the steps they can take to minimize any potential damage. During crisis counseling, psychologists and psychotherapists often help the client understand that their reactions to the crisis are normal, but temporary. While the situation may seem both dire and endless to the person experiencing the crisis, the goal is to help the client see that he or she will eventually return to normal functioning.
  • Offering support - One of the most important elements of crisis counseling involves offering support, stabilization and resources. Active listening is critical, as well as offering unconditional acceptance and reassurance. Providing this kind of non-judgmental support during a crisis can help reduce stress and improve coping. During the crisis, it can be very beneficial for individuals to develop a brief dependency on supportive people. Unlike unhealthy dependencies, these relationships help the individual become stronger and eventually independent.
  • Developing coping skills - In addition to providing support, crisis therapists also bolster existing defenses and help clients develop coping skills to deal with the immediate crisis. This might involve helping the client explore different solutions to the problem, imagine various outcomes, practice stress reduction techniques and encourage positive thinking. This process is not just about teaching these skills to the client, it is also about encouraging the client to make a commitment to continue utilizing these skills in the future.

Who and what problems are helped by crisis intervention therapy?

  • Addiction relapse
  • Acute anxiety/panic experience
  • Career crisis
  • Child/adolescent crisis
  • College related crisis
  • Couples in crisis because of betrayal and infidelity
  • Developmental issues such as puberty
  • Financial crisis and concerns
  • Health and medical problems or a recent diagnosis
  • Identity concerns/identity confusion/body image
  • Loss and bereavement
  • Issues unique to men
  • Issues unique to women
  • Mid-life transition
  • Parenting crisis
  • Sexual concerns
  • Traumatic event/accident

NYC Therapist Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a skilled Psychotherapist, Relationship and Stress Reduction Expert in New York City. She provides therapy, EMDR & Coaching to individuals and couples.