Do Me a Favor

August 14, 2013
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

A big part of crisis intervention involves being empathetic toward the person who’s losing control. It makes your intervention safer, more caring, and ultimately more effective.

We can all empathize with being anxious and defensive. We've all been there! Additionally, some human services providers can relate to being a danger to self or others. When I think back to some of the behaviors I displayed at university, I know I was dangerous to myself and probably could have benefited from an intervention! And we are all familiar with “coming down” at the end of a crisis and experiencing what, in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training, we call Tension Reduction. This empathy piece is a crucial point I like to make when presenting the training program.

Another perspective I enjoy sharing is that the individuals in our care who are acting out are actually doing us a favor by displaying their behaviors.

This takes Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training participants aback, but they can usually appreciate it after I explain what I'm talking about.

I use the CPI Crisis Development Model* as a background. For example, when a student refuses to get “on task,” they’re displaying a noncompliant behavior that we identify as “refusal.” Refusal is a part of the CPI Verbal Escalation Continuum℠ model and triggers the staff response of “setting limits.” Setting limits is one of the best ways to manage noncompliant behavior and usually results in a de-escalation of the behavior and a successful intervention.

But how do we achieve this success? By using the appropriate intervention.

And how did we know which intervention to use? By applying the CPI Verbal Escalation Continuum℠ model.

And who displays the behavior that leads us to apply that model? The person in our care!

Now, I don't like it when patients yell and scream and drop “F” bombs all over the place. But I know what it's like to display those verbal behaviors. So I can empathize.

What's more, the patient immediately tells me what level of crisis they are at, which then tells me how to manage their behavior. The patient is actually doing me a favor by using foul language and expending tons of energy—because they’re telling me which successful intervention to use with them.

Twisted logic? Maybe. But is it going to help me stay in control? Definitely! It gives me a plan I can use—and when staff use a plan, they’re more likely to make rational decisions leading to a nonviolent outcome.

There’s an old saying that when a person acts out, we reply that while we like the person, we don't like the behavior they’re displaying. I'd like to take that a step further and say that I still like the person and while I may not like the behavior, I can appreciate their displaying that behavior. Why? Because I can use that display to apply a model that will help me use the correct intervention to de-escalate the behavior. Everybody wins!

* The CPI Crisis Development Model℠ outlines a series of recognizable behavior levels that an individual may go through during crisis. It also describes corresponding attitudes and approaches that staff can use for crisis intervention.

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