Crisis theory intervention can be traced back as far as 400 B.C. (Roberts 2005). However, more modern crisis theory came out of studies that were done on crisis and bereavement. Crisis theory came directly out of psychoanalytic theory as well as ego psychology, which emphasizes that individuals have the ability to both learn and grow. A crisis can be defined as "a period of psychological disequilibrium, experienced as a result of a hazardous event or situation that constitutes a significant problem that cannot be remedied by using familiar coping strategies" (2005). Crisis can be thought less formally as turning points that are not able to be dealt effectively with old ways of problem solving. Crises can also be thought of as transitional periods that presents to an individual, on one side, the chance for personality maturation and, on the other side, a threat of negative affects with increased vulnerability to more stress. Crisis does not always have to be seen as an extreme threat, however. Crises can also be viewed as a disturbance of habit. The purpose of crisis intervention is thus to help resolve the urgent problem using both focused and directed forms of intervention aimed at helping an individual develop new adaptive coping tactics (2005). Crises are different from regular problems in that the people experiencing them feel anxiety, intense fear and may feel like they are completely "falling apart." Despite the negative connotation of the word 'crisis,' one Chinese proverb states that "Crises are dangerous opportunities" (UCLA 2008).
In 1950 (and later revised in 1963), Erik Erikson added to the subject of crisis intervention with his publication of the book Childhood and Society. In the book he discussed crises as being a normal part of human development, which cast crisis in an entirely new light and offered the idea that "effective resolution of anticipated crises could prevent long-term maladjustment in an individual's development" (Annandale 2006). Erikson saw personality development as a succession of differentiated phases, each different from the one before it. Between one phase and the subsequent phase are periods that are characterized by cognitive and affective upset (2006). Erikson distinguished between developmental crises and accidental crises. Development crises are association with incidents like birth (which is a crises for the mother giving birth and the baby being born), puberty and adolescence, marriage, menopause and so on as individuals go through the biological stages of life (2006). Developmental crises are different from accidental crises in that they occur at a certain point in development and every individual must go through them at some point (2006). Accidental crises can be defined as traumatic events which might or might not occur at any given time (2006). Some examples of accidental crises are earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and the like -- which would affect a whole part of society as opposed to just one individual. There are individual accidental crises as well, for example, a child losing a mother at a young age, a divorce, or the death of a spouse.
Overview of School-Based Crisis Intervention:
Emergency, crisis, and tragedy -- all are words that are used much too frequently at schools these days. Nearly every school would admit to having a crisis at some point and, if not, they surely will have one in the future. There are the natural disasters that were discussed above that affect schools, but there are other crises such as school-related violence (e.g., school shootings), gang activity, hostage-taking, rape and suicide (UCLA 2008). Students respond in a myriad of ways from these tragedies (no matter what they type) -- fear, pain, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (2008). Furthermore, these types of tragedies can cause such emotional turmoil in students that they may think of hurting themselves or others (2008).
School children need safety in their school environments if they are to flourish in that environment. However, as noted, sometimes things happen in school environments that endanger their safety. When safety is threatened, the adults in the situation must be able to ensure that the children will be protected from any potential harm. Crises come in many different forms -- as noted, but some less common types of crises may include terrorist threats or even war (ASCA 2010). Teachers and counselors at school are an important part -- if not the most important part -- of crisis intervention in schools. Their job is not only to protect the children in moments of crises, but also to help them understand what has happened and how to recover from it (2010).
During times of crises, children, like adults, feel the uncertainty and fear of the situation -- and perhaps to a much greater degree because of a child's overall lack of control due to their age. Crisis intervention must allow the children the opportunity to know what is going on and how the crisis is being dealt with. Knowing these things may help to empower the child and minimize the effects of the trauma experienced as a result of the crisis (ASCA 2010). These crises that occur can be thought of as hurdles. With positive crisis intervention, a child will be able to successfully surmount the hurdle and move on to a happy and healthy life. If the crisis is handled positively, the child will be able to mature as a result of the crisis; however, if the crisis is handled in a negative manner, then the child may develop a "maladaptive pathway," which can later turn into a full-on mental illness (Browne 2010).
The principal focus of all schools is education -- first and foremost. All schools have in place a fire evacuation plan and they even conduct fire drills to practice what would happen if a fire were to exist (the same applies to tornado alerts and, in some parts of the country, earthquakes). Less commonly have these schools come up with and implemented a plan for taking care of both the psychological and emotional needs of students (and staff for that matter) in a time of crisis (Roberts 2005). Most schools may view these matters as something that another entity will take care of (e.g., therapists outside of the school, parents, clergy, etc.). They may erroneously believe that these types of matters (the psychological and emotional needs of students) fall outside the realm of their educational institution (2005). Because of this, too many schools are not prepared within the school as well as within the larger community to support students and staff when a crisis happens (2005). The term "school-based crisis intervention" refers to a very wide range of responses that schools can both plan and implement in response to emergency situations.
Where Does the Responsibility Lie?
Planning and implementing a school-based crisis intervention policy is easier said than done. Because there are so many different crises that could occur, there are also many different forms of responses or interventions that could be utilized. For example, the way in which schools plan and implement crisis intervention for an earthquake or flood is different from one that would be planned and implemented for gang activity or a suicide. Because of this, there are many different people with different areas of expertise that should be called upon. Most of what happens at the school level is formed by district policy as well as procedural guidelines (UCLA 2008). In most cases, the district should have provided very detailed plans for dealing with major crises of different sorts. The district should also have guidelines in place for what to do immediately following the crisis (e.g., crisis teams, medical and therapeutic services) (2008). One of the best ways to develop a crisis plan for different types of crises is to organize a group that will tackle the planning and implementation. Usually a small committee is adequate in both planning and implementation (2008).
In planning for crises, it is necessary to think about and anticipate the details of what could happen and how to react to it. Some of the things that need to be considered are:
Who will assume what roles and duties in response to the crisis situation
What types of situations the school considers a crisis justifying a school-based response
What constitutes a particular event as a crisis situation
How will different aspects of the crisis response be handled (e.g., who, what, where)
How to assess and triage medical and psychological trauma
How to identify the students and/or staff who will need intervention in the aftermath
What kinds of responses will be made with respect to students, parents, staff, district, community and media
What special provisions will be implemented to address language and cultural considerations
Which school faculty will make the certain responses
How district and community resources be utilized
Which faculty/personnel will review the efficacy of each response and make the correct revisions in crises response plans
What training and development is needed in the school in order to carry out plans