In some ways, asking why crisis intervention is needed seems like a redundant question doesn’t it? Or at least it should! I think most people would agree that intervention of some kind is needed after a crisis. For example, if someone experiences a fire in their house no one would dispute the need for the Fire Department, and depending on the situation, the Salvation Army or another local crisis response team as well.
Not all crises are as visible or striking as a fire. In my last blog post, I wrote about how sometimes a person reaches a crisis point because of a proverbial straw. After several “small” things have happened, all it takes is one…more…thing.
Dr. Norman Wright, who I quote regularly, says, “People cannot tolerate the stress of crisis for long. In one way or another, they will resolve it within a period of six weeks. In this time frame, they’re pliable like clay, but in time, a hardness sets in.” Yes hardness sets in, provided nothing else happens because they are less able to make good choices while in this heightened state of stress.
Now, when Dr. Wright talks about the crisis being resolved within 6 weeks, he’s not necessarily talking about a good resolution. Think of it like a release valve. When the pressure builds and appropriate resources are available, when someone who cares is around to help, it’s like opening the valve just a little to release the steam. The likelihood of this person working toward a healthy resolution is much higher.
Without adequate support, the pressure can’t find its way out but it looks for it. This is when a person who quit smoking 10 years ago goes and buys a pack of cigarettes or turns to drugs or alcohol for relief. In worst-case scenarios, self-harm, suicide, or harm to others can take place.
People have differing views of what constitutes a crisis and often discount the immediate and long-term effects of trauma. We tend to take for granted the effects of everyday stresses and their accumulating effects. The reality of just one…more…thing... sometimes that is really all it takes. We need to stop blaming people for their responses to traumatic things and instead acknowledge that we live in a broken world and shit happens! I also want to point out that blame isn’t always about other people - this mentality affects our response to our own trauma and can lead to the hardness Dr. Wright is speaking about, making it harder for us to respond with compassion to others.
That doesn’t have to be the end of the story. It is completely within our power to do something about it. When someone does intervene in a positive way, the impact can be life-changing, in fact, world-changing! And the solution is often very simple.
Back to our example of a house fire.
Imagine a family getting ready for supper after a long day at work and school. Suddenly there’s a fire in the kitchen and the Fire Department is called. Adrenaline surges through their systems which helps everyone do what needs to be done to get to safety. Have you ever experienced a fire? 20 years ago we did. It’s terrifying. There is so much going on in real-time and in your mind! Even if there are no injuries, it overwhelms the nervous system and people can go into shock. Once the fire is put out, the Fire Department leaves, and now there’s a big mess to clean up.
But the fire is out, the crisis is over now isn’t it? Not so fast! There is a risk of reignition of smoldering debris after all fires and must be carefully monitored until the debris has been removed. The family is in a similar situation!
I could list any number of variables that range in severity. The fire we experienced was (mostly) contained in the garage so we didn’t have to leave our home, but a fire in the kitchen would most likely mean this family now needs a place to go. This scenario can snowball in terms of crises. Housing, insurance, work, school, clothes, food… There are amazing agencies out there that exist to help in this exact situation. But, meeting someone's practical needs in a crisis is not the end of the impact.
Let’s assume this family's practical and material needs are met. Maybe they even get to return to their home within a short amount of time. Does this mean this crisis is no longer having an impact on their nervous system or mental health? Of course not. Their immediate need for safety and security has been restored (the fire is out!) but that’s not the only thing that needs restoration. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of what else they could be dealing with. This is where crisis intervention continues to be vitally important. Chances are, before they even realize how this crisis has impacted them, they’ve returned to work and school and just get on with life. Unknowingly carrying around this extra weight.
It’s sneaky. It starts out as a harmless glass of wine, or a toke of a joint, just to help you relax. A little reprieve from the stress. Too tired to cook, of course you are, you’ve just been through the wringer! Let’s order out, but we don’t have the cash, that’s ok, just put it on the credit card. I just can’t deal with work today, I’m taking a day off that turns into two or three, I don’t have any holiday time left so now my pay is going to be short. Oh well.
The family shows up at church a few weeks later to hear well-meaning people say to them, “oh we’ve been praying for you! Thank God no one was hurt! It is a blessing more damage wasn’t done, that could have been much worse! Let me know if you need anything, praying!” As they walk away.
Not only is that not helpful, it actually drives the person’s pain deeper into the well and makes them feel isolated, guilty for feeling angry, depressed, tired, worn out, or any number of emotions that are completely understandable under the circumstance. It also effectively shuts down any potential for conversation.
When my family went through the crisis that started all of this 14 years ago, out of utter desperation, I went to see the new Pastor at our church. Through swollen eyes, blotchy cheeks, and an endless stream of tears, I said to him, “I have exhausted every possibility, I have nowhere left to turn. I didn’t want to, the church is the last place I wanted to go, this is my last resort.” I had this idea in my mind that I was a burden to the church. He looked at me with grave concern and said, “shouldn’t the church be the first place people turn to? How can I help?” My answer... “I don’t know.”
At this point, it had been over three months since the initial crisis, every corner we turned, it seemed trouble was waiting for us (remember, people can't tolerate the stress of crisis for long, one way or another, they will resolve it within a period of six weeks). We were about to lose our home.. this was part of the resolution - as I said, resolutions are not always good! There wasn’t much he could do to stop the tsunami, aside from buying our house, maybe. That might have prevented us from going bankrupt but either way, we had to move.
He did what he could, he acknowledged the impossible pain I was in, the absolute mess of things, he prayed for me and my family, gave me $200 out of his own pocket to buy some groceries, and invited us over for dinner. He was a really good friend to me and walked with me through the valley for two years. He helped set us up on a pathway to healing, to some degree unknowingly, simply because he had compassion and was quick to comfort.
I have been reading the Gospel of Mark lately in The Message. Chapter six is where you find the well-known story of Jesus walking on water. That’s the part everyone remembers, even if you’ve never read the bible! I noticed something profound when I read it this time around. The Disciples were in a boat struggling, the wind and waves were against them, no doubt exhausted, the story says it was 4 am! Jesus walks out onto the water, the Disciples are terrified, scared to death in fact and the author tells us, “Jesus was quick to comfort them…”
Quite a simple statement.
He was quick to comfort them.
I also found Jesus' timing interesting. He didn't wait until the Disciples were overcome or had washed up on the shore. The story says Jesus could see his friends struggling from the shore and set out on the water toward them. He intentionally moved toward them and was quick to comfort them.
Elsewhere in the bible, someone else who knows about the comfort that Jesus extends is the Apostle Paul. He explains, “God is the compassionate Father and God of all comfort. He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God.” (2 Cor 1:4) Crisis intervention is a biblical imperative.
Here are 3 simple steps to follow when someone you know is in pain:
Notice when someone is hurting and take a step toward them. Look at the person, really look at them. Listen or read the words they are sharing. They need validation, not your opinion.
Name it. Acknowledge what you’re seeing/reading, “The fire must have been frightening! I’m so glad you weren’t hurt, you must be so rattled/exhausted/worried/sad.”
Do something, immediately. Jesus said to his friends, "Take courage! Don't be afraid! I'm here." And then He got in the boat with them.
If you offer to pray, pray right there. Put your hand on the person's shoulder, ask God to intervene, and be willing to be an answer to your own prayer. If you can help in some practical way, just do it, don’t ask if they want help, just help. Don’t add more to their burden. Having to decide what is helpful is not helpful! I'll give you a hint: food and company offer comfort 98% of the time.
Let’s be quick to comfort!