Prevention Before Intervention: 3 Ways to De-Escalate

March 17, 2016
Jordan McDermott-Roe
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

We have all dealt with a crisis situation at some point in our lives. Whether it was ourselves or someone else in crisis, we’ve all been there.

It’s instinctual to some to physically intervene almost immediately in these types of situations, but that is not what CPI is about. CPI is about preventing crisis scenarios and learning how to be aware of escalating behaviors ahead of time.

Learn how to read your clientele.

Whenever I train others, the most important thing I teach them is to be aware of the emotions of their clients.

Read your service users and gauge their emotions and behaviors. Use that information to decide if the person is at risk. What do you need to look for?

In CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® course, Unit 2 teaches us to use our nonverbal communication to send appropriate signals to help de-escalate a situation by using proxemics, kinesics, and haptics.

I think of kinesics, or body language, as being the most important. Notice the person’s posture or maybe how they’re moving around. Look for signs of anxiety or frustration. Sometimes it’s difficult to see if someone is physically frustrated, but other emotions like sadness are much more obvious, so train yourself to look for these three things:

  • Eyes
  • Hands
  • Posture

I’ve come to find that these are the easiest to read and are very beneficial in environments where we’re working with individuals who are incapable of communicating verbally due to a disability.

Have a nonverbal conversation.

Learning how to identify a client who has a noticeable change in behavior is the first step in helping the client. The second is learning how to approach them in a respectful and nonthreatening way.

Making sure you’re controlling your own nonverbal communication is just as, if not more, important than watching your client’s kinesics. Sending the wrong nonverbal message to your client could cause them to become defensive and escalate to a risk behavior level.

The best tool I’ve found is to use facial expressions. When someone approaches us, we always look at their face, so it’s always important to make sure that you look approachable and supportive with your facial expressions. As you communicate with the client, you can use the other types of kinesics to your advantage, like gestures, stance, and posture.

Use it or lose it.

In your spare time, try to practice working on and using your nonverbal communication.

Learn to recognize the different emotions people are displaying so you can be prepared for anything you might encounter in your job. The more time you spend trying to enhance your skills and learn how to recognize signs of crisis early, the more effective you can be in your field.

Many crisis situations can be prevented before you have to physically intervene. Become a master at learning how to communicate nonverbally and you will be able to de-escalate. CPI gives us these tools, and if they’re used correctly, we can provide the best care possible for our service users.

About the Author: Jordan McDermott-Roe has been trained in CPI since 2010 and has worked in geriatric psychiatric units as a CNA. He currently works for a drug and alcohol addiction center for adolescents as the business office manager, and believes in offering the best possible care for each and every client.

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