How to Help a Person in Crisis

Written by Dr. Jimmy Hassan

After meeting the more urgent physical needs (like providing food, water, shelter, and medical care), the person might be ready to talk about his or her trauma. Below we give you some examples on how to help someone deal with the psychological impact of the crisis.

  • What might be the most important thing you can do is give the individual the opportunity to openly tell their story without interruptions or unnecessary questions. The person might find the need to repeat themselves while reliving the trauma. Be patient with them, show care while being to them a compassionate listener.
  • Express respect, empathy, and compassion. Keep them calm. Try not to show your personal feelings, especially if you are amazed or frightened. Be conscious of how you are responding to the information you are receiving. Keep your time under control and if necessary take breaks during your session.
  • Give them the most possible control to make decisions. The more the person is in control the better it is for them. This will help them decrease their sense of helplessness. Explore the alternatives and develop a plan of action. If they are not capable of making decisions, it might be necessary that you take control at first, but keeping in mind the goal is to help them become more independent. Be cautious of them developing an unhealthy relationship of dependency towards you.
  • Explore with the person what their mechanism is on dealing with the situation. How do they tend to respond when dealing with stress? What helps them deal with the actual situation?
  • Explore with the individual their current support system (for example: family, friends, church, etc.). How is this support system helping? What other resources are available (for example: The Red Cross, faith based organizations or others)?
  • Be aware the current trauma can possibly bring to surface past traumas (for example: related to war, abuse, loss of loved ones or others).
  • You might want to ask what they feel might help them in their recovery process (possibly having a memorial service, or a meeting with others for mutual consolation).
  • Keep in mind this person is a survivor and not a victim.
  • In a timely matter, try and have a session with someone of trust, who can help you evaluate the interaction you have had with the person in crisis. Talk about everything you saw, heard, felt, and experienced

Characteristics of a trauma

Dr. D. J. Schwartz describes how a person feels when facing a crisis:

  1. Sense of perplexity (dilemma): “Never before have I felt this way.”
  2. Sense of danger: “I feel fearful, something bad is going to happen.”
  3. Sense of confusion: “I can’t think with clarity, as though my mind no longer functions.”
  4. Sense of deadlock: “I feel I’m at a dead end, I have no alternatives.”
  5. Sense of desperation: “I know I have to do something, but I don’t know what to do.”
  6. Sense of apathy: “Nothing can help me, why bother?”
  7. Sense of helplessness: “I can’t try it on my own, please help!”
  8. Sense of urgency: “I need the help now!”
  9. Sense of discomfort: “I feel so unhappy and wretched.”

If you want to talk to someone, talk to a mentor

Used by permission. Dr. Jimmy Hassan Campus Crusade for Christ Nicaragua.

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