Social workers often help individuals struggling to cope with major trauma. What skills and qualities are needed to work in crisis intervention?
What is a Crisis Intervention Social Worker?
A Crisis Intervention Social Worker’s main focus is to provide support and guidance to clients in a state of acute mental health crisis. These states are most often brought on by a recent trauma or long term case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Crisis intervention plays a vital role in helping individuals who are at imminent risk of harming themselves or others. Social workers can be a vital part of a crisis intervention team (CIT) due to their abilities to use empathy, listening and quickly analyze social situations to resolve psychosocial problems.
The tactics and techniques used by a crisis intervention social worker can have a significant impact on their clients’ lives. While there are many respected crisis intervention (CI) models, one of the most respected is the Seven-Stage Crisis Intervention Model.
The Seven-Stage Crisis Intervention Model
In their clinical guidelines for crisis intervention, Albert R. Roberts and Allen J. Ottens describe a crisis as an acute psychological disruption during which a person’s coping mechanisms fail, resulting in distress and functional impairment.
One of the key roles of social work for a CIT is the ability to alleviate the affected person’s distress, impairment and instability while being careful to avoid any actions that could worsen the crisis.
The seven-stage crisis intervention model developed by Roberts and Ottens sets out a sequence of guideposts that social workers can use to save them from acting in a well-meaning but haphazard fashion when quick decisions are required. Following these steps also helps avoid getting swept up in the emotions of the moment.
The model can be summarized as follows:
- Plan and conduct a thorough biopsychosocial and lethality/imminent danger assessment
- Make psychological contact and rapidly establish the collaborative relationship
- Identify the major problems, including crisis precipitants
- Encourage an exploration of feelings and emotions
- Generate and explore alternatives and coping strategies
- Restore functioning through implementation of an action plan
- Plan follow-up and booster sessions
Once the immediate dangers to the client’s well-being have been addressed, it’s the social worker’s job to build a working alliance with the client. If the client is suicidal, they may need to be able to persuade them that help is both available and worthwhile.
This could involve mutually agreeing with the client on short-term goals and tasks, and suggesting alternative coping methods that leverage the client’s strengths.
As Roberts and Ottens explain: “Some clients in crisis are making one last heroic effort to seek help and may be highly motivated to try something different.”
Additional skill development, such as focusing on conflict resolution skills, can also aid social workers in their career move to a CIT.
Becoming a Crisis Intervention Worker
Social workers who specialize in crisis intervention need to possess many of the skills and qualities of typical emergency responders. The role requires strong situational awareness, problem-solving capacity, empathy and emotional resilience.
In some cases, they may need to provide mentoring and support to other social support workers or volunteers who are experiencing their own emotional traumas.
There are many opportunities as a social worker to play a role in crisis intervention. They are often needed in communities where social stressors such as poverty, substance abuse and crime interfere with the coping abilities of individuals and their families.
They may be needed in the aftermath of a natural disaster or attack to help people whose coping skills are diminished due to a pre-existing mental disorder. They can also help reduce the strain on hospital emergency departments by identifying relationship and environmental issues in new patients that can be treated by redirecting them to community services or home care.
Salary of a Crisis Intervention Specialist
Required Education of a Crisis Intervention Specialist
Required education for a social worker in crisis intervention includes an undergraduate and advanced degree, followed by around two years of supervised experience and a licensing exam. Find out how you can accelerate your social work career by investing in an advanced degree.