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Crisis Intervention – What About Diversity? Cultural Considerations

Crises are universal in nature and affect all people. Sources of crisis can include, but are not limited to: natural disaster, domestic violence, change in marital status, economic burdens, death of a loved one, chronic or terminal health conditions, medical emergencies, loss of employment, assault, or burglary.

Even though there is universality to crisis, culture plays a strong role in how crisis is interpreted, both for the crisis intervener and the person in crisis.

The crisis intervention responder focuses on providing an immediate and temporary emotional first aid to the person in crisis. Interventions are utilized to assist the person in crisis and target the circumstances of the presenting problem. The goal is to reduce the level of stress for the person in crisis, modulate the intensity of the stressors, and return to a level of normalcy at the pre-crisis level of functioning.

Due to the need for immediate response on part of the crisis intervener, factors of culture and cultural identity are often neglected. Since the crisis intervener and person in crisis often come from different cultures (i.e. age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language, nationality, religion, occupation, income, education, mental and physical abilities), it is important to develop an immediate trust between the two for the purpose of assisting the person in crisis to regain their coping mechanisms and return to a pre-crisis level of functioning.

The quick development of rapport and trust between people of different cultures often requires the crisis intervener to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, and demonstrate an acceptance of cultural differences.

It is crucial that professionals who work with people in crisis be aware of their own issues. When intervening in a cross-cultural situation, ask yourself important questions such as, “What am I feeling now?” It is most important that professionals develop an awareness of their own prejudices around cultural diversity.

Crisis intervention often demands quick responses in a limited period of time. Depending on the severity of a crisis, rapid questions and answer are often required to manage the crisis response. However, people from many cultural groups see questioning as an intrusion into privacy. Therefore, informing the person in crisis of the need to ask questions can help people from those cultural groups understand that this type of questioning is a necessary, yet temporary strategy in order to assure safety. When working with someone in crisis while respecting cultural differences, it may be best to ask, “It is important that I ask some personal questions in order to best help you. Is it OK that I do that?” Asking permission can go a long way in building rapport during the crisis event.

After symptoms of the crisis are stabilized and controlled, acknowledgment and appreciation of the culture of the person in crisis can help to identify cultural resources for after-care. Resources from family, church, ethnic or specialized agencies can provide continuing support needed after the immediate and urgent symptoms are controlled.

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Michael Reading

Michael Reading, MS, NCC, LMHC is the Director of Crisis Services for Crisis Clinic in Seattle, Washington. He also serves as the Vice Chair on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA.

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