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CPI’s Crisis Development Model℠ Puts Crisis in Perspective

As a newcomer to CPI’s creative department, I recently attended our four-day Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training to become a Certified Instructor. Throughout, I was reminded of a quote from Wayne Dyer: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Over the years, I’ve worked in many client facing positions, not only as a writer, but as a trainer, facilitator and manager. From health care to hospitality, from factory floors to spas, from hardware stores to luxury retail, I’ve learned that the term “crisis” means something different to everybody. It’s all in how you look at it.
Early in our first day of training, our instructor introduced the Crisis Development Model. As I’m sure many first-time participants do, I found myself taking a trip back through my own professional history, reflecting on any number of situations I might have handled differently had I been empowered with CPI training a little earlier on in my career. Years of addressing calamities of all stripes had given me plenty of anecdotal evidence for how easily life’s littlest hiccups can become cataclysmic, with the right mix of Precipitating Factors.
Just a few of the “crisis situations” I tangled with over the years BEFORE I got CPI training:
  • The guests who refused to leave their beach house, even though a hurricane evacuation had been ordered, because they paid so much for their vacation
  • Informing an amazing staffer that their employment had to be terminated for compliance reasons that I could do absolutely nothing about
  • Breaking up a fight between two stylists who had begun screaming and throwing product at each other in a salon full of clients
  • The patient seeking drugs at the urgent care who refused to leave the facility when we were trying to lock up for the day
  • A vendor shortage that was going to impact an Amish farmer’s ability to keep 200 baby chicks alive and warm through early spring at his off-grid farm
(In a career move that might not shock anybody, I recently decided I was finally ready to concentrate full-time on my writing.)
The interesting thing about CPI training is that it’s not just about what to do in a crisis, but how to accurately assess crisis behavior before you decide what to do. You must change the way you look at crisis for it to have the potential to change.
The Greek root of the word “crisis” means “decision.” Not failure, calamity, or disaster—all outcomes we associate with crisis. Interesting, isn’t it, how the events of life become ripe with potential when we choose to view crisis as an opportunity, instead of a fate written in stone?
CPI defines the Crisis Development Model as a series of recognizable behavior levels an individual may go through in a crisis, and corresponding staff attitudes/approaches used for crisis intervention. Essentially, it is the lens through which we look at things—changing their appearance to one of constructive possibility. With better perspective, we can rationally detach from instinctual reactions and act with mindful awareness. Trusting that behavior impacts behavior, there is always potential for a positive outcome in the four levels of the Crisis Development Model.
1. Anxiety
Anxiety is defined as a change in behavior, and our first chance to look at things differently. This is a time to listen and observe, not dictate what should happen next. Mindfulness is the critical tool—remaining present, keeping a compassionate vigil, and offering an appropriate measure of comfort and support.
2. Defensive Behavior
Defensive behavior can be a natural escalation of anxiety; it’s the point where a person in crisis begins to lose rationality. Fidgeting and pacing can give way to an outburst, for example. Directive behavior makes all the difference here—a thoughtful effort to decelerate the situation with focused support. This can give somebody in crisis a safe opportunity to regain composure. 
3. Risk Behavior
Risk behavior is displayed by a person in crisis who has reached the potential to harm themselves or others. It’s too easy to respond to this kind of behavior with judgment or fear. When you change how you look at risk behavior, you realize with the right mix of Precipitating Factors, anyone can escalate to this point—including yourself. Understanding that frees you from pre-conceived reactions to focus on safely disengaging yourself from harm, or providing safe physical support to a person in crisis.
4. Tension Reduction
Finally, every crisis reaches a point of Tension Reduction. Crisis behaviors, especially as they escalate, expend a tremendous amount of energy, and in the aftermath, we can respond with Therapeutic Rapport. There may be an opportunity to reconnect with the individual in crisis, and to offer constructive reassurance and support. We remain mindful of our own moments of vulnerability to encourage the person in crisis we haven’t turned our back on them. Reaching this point makes debriefing possible—not only with the individual who was in crisis, but also with staff—enabling all involved to look at crisis as an opportunity to learn, grow stronger, and prevent its recurrence.
What would change about crisis if we looked at it differently? That’s the potential of the Crisis Development Model. When you view crisis through its lens, you can become an advocate for the Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security of others; these core values should dictate our perspective.
When you change how you look at a challenge, you unlock its positive potential. If you remain mindful about your ability to control your own behavior, you can make constructive choices that can promote the best possible outcome instead of the worst-case scenario. The Crisis Development Model is the best tool for approaching a situation with hope instead of trepidation, and remaining focused on its positive potential.
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