Americans report they’re more stressed than ever, which is why developing an approach of practical peace has never been more vital.
Last fall, the American Psychological Association (APA) polled
Americans about how they perceive stress. They reported that more than half of all adults—no matter their age—feel that we’re living in the lowest point in US history. Various reasons fuel this perception, but the bottom line is that people of all walks of life in this country are feeling more stressed than ever. Nearly six in 10 adults stated that “current social divisiveness” adds to their feelings of stress.
Too much stress can be toxic
—negative thoughts increase cortisol production, and too much cortisol can exacerbate a range of health problems and impede cognitive function. This toxicity can become cyclical—and contagious. Mirror neurons in our brains can echo what people do and say around us, informing our feelings and thoughts, and without developing the resilience to constructively respond to negativity, it can become a poison both emotionally and physiologically for the person exhibiting the negativity and the person responding to it.
At CPI, we call the way our behavior impacts the behavior of others an Integrated Experience. And in our training, we teach that to positively impact this Integrated Experience, you must understand that the only behavior you can control is your own. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book Understanding Our Mind
, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”
Changing the world for the good of humanity is a daunting task. Changing your own world as an individual, however, can be as simple as making one choice. That one choice can set the path of crisis prevention, or crisis de-escalation, in a positive direction. And knowing that behavior impacts behavior, making that choice one of practical peace is vital for the people around you. Thinking globally but acting locally has never been more important.
We asked CPI staff and Certified Instructors in the field about the Integrated Experience, and their strategies for practical peace.
CPI Global Professional Manager William Badzmierowski offers
these four simple strategies for facilitating a peaceful and positive Integrated Experience:
- Personal space and body language are highly important. Being mindful of someone’s need for personal space helps them calm down when they’re upset. Using respectful, nonthreatening gestures, facial expressions, and movements has the same effect.
- How we say words matters so much more than the words themselves. When someone’s feeling scared, angry, hurt, or aggressive, they don’t hear what we say so much—they actually respond more to our tone, volume, and cadence.
- Simple and clear directives always work best. If someone’s upset about something, they often can’t hear everything we say, so we need to be clear, speak simply, and offer concise and respectful support and directives.
- Our behavior and attitudes affect the behavior and attitudes of others. This is the Integrated Experience from the CPI Crisis Development Model℠, which teaches us that while we can’t often control someone else’s behavior, we can control how we choose to respond to that behavior—and that helps them behave more positively.
Master Level Certified Instructor D.C. Foster has pointed out
that shifting your own physiological and cognitive response to an intentionally positive one has a domino effect on the people around you, inspiring them to elevate their own thinking. That, in turn, changes how they interact with the people in their care:
Remembering that my ability to help my patients starts with helping my staff, I undertook a personal campaign to make my response more affirming, positive, and inclusive. When my department was called upon, instead of saying we had nothing to report, I announced, “We’re good.”
At first, it didn’t catch on. The majority of attending staff continued to say “Nothing.” I realized that the term was ingrained in their vocabulary, and that I needed allies in this effort to successfully flip the script. Before the next meeting, I shared my observation with three different colleagues in separate disciplines, who also sat in separate areas around the room. When they were called upon for status updates, they repeated after me: “We’re good.”
And just as my colleagues had echoed the term “nothing” in previous meetings, they did the same thing when my friends and I led the meeting with our motivational responses. “We’re good” helped shift the overall tone of our morning meetings became more positive and uplifting, and the trend has continued.
We can’t always prevent bad things from happening, but we can proactively address the risks of trauma, and help one another to heal.
The Integrated Experience isn’t just about helping yourself to feel better in the face of stress. There’s tremendous potential for diminishing lasting harm to others by taking this philosophy deeper into a trauma-informed care approach. Senior Level Certified Instructor T.D. Loftus writes
1. You can help your clients begin to identify, tolerate, and develop more adaptive responses by engaging mindfully in the earliest steps of the Crisis Development Model℠.
Think of the first behavior level, Anxiety, as a redirection zone. If we’re effective at this point, we can provide the needed support before a client loses rationality, and attempt to inhibit that hair-trigger response of the limbic system.
We know that mindfulness, particularly when employed as a meditative practice, can empower clients to form new neural pathways that can lead away from their trauma and toward recovery by helping them learn to self-regulate. One can’t be relaxed and triggered at the same time—these are incompatible states.
2. You can learn to identify defensive behavior as trauma-reactive behavior, not a deliberate outburst.
Being mindful of trauma as a Precipitating Factor can help you focus on Rational Detachment, rather than taking a client’s actions personally. Knowledge of nonverbal and paraverbal behavior can yield a more sophisticated understanding of baseline behavior, and allow for an earlier read of defensive behaviors. A faster read ideally leads to a faster therapeutic reaction.
3. You can also discover the triggers of risk behaviors by remaining rationally detached.
The moment of crisis is a key opportunity to uncover what might be triggering a client’s behavior. Risk behavior could well be rooted in trauma. The rapid firing of the limbic system when triggered can result in “flashbacks” or dissociative reactions in clients, to name a few possible scenarios. Implementing the team approach recommended by CPI training ensures that you’ll have the supervision necessary to do this safely, and inform more effective treatment interventions.
4. Take a trauma-sensitive approach and pave the way for positive recovery during Tension Reduction.
When helping de-escalate a crisis, the goal should be to not only prevent the crisis from happening again, but to reconstruct those neural pathways that have previously triggered this acting-out behavior. This is where the principles of neurocounseling can help clients gain constructive coping skills—and where Therapeutic Rapport can help clients recognize maladaptive responses in the aftermath of acting out, and determine new strategies to prevent future occurrences.
5. Always take the opportunity to debrief with the COPING Model℠.
For clients, this is a time to actively and safely participate in their own recovery. For staff, debriefing provides essential protection from secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue, and can be the cue to implement appropriate and effective self-care strategies. As a Certified Instructor, I encourage staff to not only use debriefing to establish a relapse prevention process, but to also make sure that they are on the lookout for vicarious trauma in the aftermath of a crisis.
Peace is practical—not just as a strategy for safer de-escalation, but for effective violence prevention.
Last fall, we asked our global community of Certified Instructors whether, in their experience, it really takes more time to be kind. Their answer? An overwhelming NO
. The unanimous response from professionals across disciplines was that the time invested in the practices of kindness is never wasted. It’s critical to preventing escalation—as both a proactive approach and a sound basis for subsequent steps taken if a crisis does develop.
Recently, Master Level Certified Instructor Michael Somers shared the story
of an encounter he observed between another therapist and a client that escalated into physical violence—needlessly, he realized in hindsight. The need to assert power and dominate in a perceived conflict won out over the option to kindly and calmly support an individual who simply needed to vent their emotions. The result was physically and psychologically traumatic for the client involved, and as a young clinician at the time, Somers was haunted by the idea that there was a nonviolent option that could have been pursued, sparing an already vulnerable individual from harm.
The distress of witnessing this violent exchange impressed upon him the need for practical peace when defusing a crisis—a strategy that has helped him avoid reprising such escalation in his career. For Somers, practical peace starts with re-thinking the concept of restraint when dealing with an individual in crisis:
“Restraint” begins a long time before any physical contact is made—if our attitude is one of prevention and support. As a practitioner and instructor, I have made a lifelong commitment to never put a child in a situation like [the one I witnessed], nor put a co-worker in the position I was put in that day. That is why I focus on the Supportive Stance℠—both in how I train my peers, and what I practice with my students.
The Supportive Stance℠ is a critical tool for maintaining a nonthreatening physical presence in a crisis. However, it’s also vital for effectively defusing verbal escalation.
I teach my staff that the Supportive Stance℠ includes opening the ears and shutting the mouth, because listening to a person in crisis can sometimes de-escalate a situation all by itself. It enhances communication to listen to that person’s viewpoint—and to not try and explain what they did wrong, or why they are in this situation.
The Supportive Stance℠ is just that—supportive. Sometimes as practitioners, we need to simply be there for an individual in crisis. Regardless of why a situation is unfolding, in that moment, being supportive can help a person move through the moment without any physical contact being needed.
The safest restraint is the one that never happens.
When it comes to your side of the Integrated Experience, will you choose practical peace?
In revisiting the outcomes of the APA survey, it’s clear that our interactions with one another are a significant factor in the perception of stress—and our inability to cope with it. The subsequent buildup of anxiety and pressure not only has a poisonous effect on our individual well-being, but it fuels the seeds of conflict and violence between people.
More importantly, we must acknowledge that many of us do
have the ability to do something about it. We can change this trend, by taking ownership of our personal choices when it comes to responding to the challenging or stressful behaviors that we encounter. Through training, we can build the resilience and confidence to consistently chose the response of practical peace.
Viewing one another through the lens of practical peace—by considering our interactions to be Integrated Experiences—opens the door to not only reduce our own personal stress, but to decrease the stress and anxiety experienced by those around us. Behavior impacts behavior. A foundation of nonviolence is built when we acknowledge that all we own are our actions, and that we must bear the consequences of these actions out.
Training is what empowers us to make Integrated Experiences positive. Acting from a principles-based perspective, each of us can be an ambassador of practical peace. Changing the world for all of humanity is too big a task for just one person—but changing your
world has never been more possible.
Are you ready to take ownership of your side of the Integrated Experience?