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UNSEEN EFFECTS


The final phase of the assessment
comes after we have developed an understanding of the cause or causes of the
individual’s crisis.  Our understanding
of possible causes includes “possible effects.” 
An example may serve to clarify the point.  Suppose your married daughter calls you one
afternoon, and she is quite upset and crying. 
From some of the things she says, you get that fear in the pit of your
stomach that comes with recognition that someone may be suicidal.  At a minimum, she is confused and
hysterical.  We have some ideas about
what might have caused these intense emotions and feelings.  In addition, we know that people who become
that upset are very “caught up” in their own feelings and emotions.  Frequently, one effect of this intense self-concern
is to forget or to be unable to deal with other responsibilities, for example,
the care of young children.  As you
respond to your daughter and her crisis, discussion about her children may not
develop spontaneously.  Our knowledge
about this kind of crisis, though, should prompt us to inquire about the
children.  Where are they?  Who is taking care of them?  We know that one possible effect of the
mother’s crisis may be her unintentional neglect of her children.  It is our responsibility to be aware of this
possible effect of her crisis and to check out the situation.


As you think about the possible
causes of a variety of crisis situations, you begin to develop notions of
possible effects or undesirable situations that frequently accompany such crises.  Considering and thinking about this dimension
of crisis intervention will stimulate your imagination and enable you to
foresee possible consequences by drawing on your own experience and common
sense.


Brenda, age nine, is in the middle
of a very complicated crisis.  Do you
remember the little poem about the girl with the curl in the middle of her
forehead?  When she was good, she was
very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.  Well, this describes Brenda, except that she
was terrible most of the time.  She would
not behave on the school bus, was always getting into fights with other
children, would not do her schoolwork, almost never obeyed her teacher, and was
undoubtedly the biggest problem in her elementary school.  She either could not or would not stand
still, sit still, or be still.  For the
third time that week, her teacher bolted into the principal’s office, saying,
“It’s Brenda again!  She came back inside
at recess and took every single pencil in the room and did something with them.  I don’t know where they are.  We can’t have school without pencils.  I’ve had it! 
Either she goes or I go!”  The
teacher had said that before, the principal believed that she really might do
it this time.  The pencil incident was
the final straw.  The principal had a
real crisis on his hands.  To placate the
teacher, and with no better ideas occurring to him, he expelled Brenda until
her parents could give some assurance that her behavior would improve.  The unseen effects of his action were
numerous.  The teacher was still thinking
about Brenda when she returned home that evening.  By that time, she had begun to see some humor
in the pencil episode, and she wondered if expelling Brenda might not have been
excessively harsh.  She knew that Brenda
had specific learning disorders and had a lot of difficulty controlling her
emotions and behavior.  She was
preoccupied about it that evening and became fairly nervous and irritable.  Her husband’s efforts to reassure and comfort
her just ended up in a big fight.  Things
got so bad that even her own teenage children got involved in the
argument.  The teacher and her family
finally got things worked out that evening and came to the conclusion that the
principal had overreacted and probably did not know what he was doing,
anyway.  The teacher came back to school
the next day convinced that the principal was incompetent and blaming him for
the impulsive way with which the problem had been dealt.


The superintendent of the school
district learned about the episode and called the principal in for a
conference.  As it turned out, the
principal’s action was probably appropriate, but he should have advised the
superintendent before taking such drastic action.  The principal said, “I just forgot.  It was the third time that week that this
situation had come to my attention, and I just took action without thinking
things through very clearly.”


Now what happened to Brenda?  When her parents learned she had been
expelled, they were even more convinced that the school did not understand
their daughter and did not really care about what happened to her.  They had been involved in many conferences at
school and were receiving help from the local mental health clinic.  What do those people expect from us?  We are doing everything we can possibly
do.  Do they want us to beat her?  How do they expect us to solve the problem
when the professionals at the mental health center don’t know how to solve it?  The parents had this discussion at the supper
table, and Brenda’s brothers and sisters thought the pencil episode was very
funny.  They could just see Brenda’s
teacher storming into the principal’s office and telling him about the
incident.  Brenda?  She had a good supper, got a vicarious
satisfaction out of seeing her parents so angry with the school, enjoyed the
attention from her brothers and sisters and their amusement with her prank,
took a nice hot bath, and went to sleep, dreaming about whatever nine-year-old
girls dream about.


The principal’s effort to deal with
the crisis had many unseen effects. 
Interestingly, however, his action had little, if any, effect on
Brenda.  What was the cause of the
crisis?  Of course the cause was Brenda’s
behavior at recess.  The principal’s
intervention was directed at the cause of the crisis.  His hope was that his action would lead to a
change in Brenda’s behavior, but he probably only served to reinforce her
undesirable behavior pattern.  As we
intervene in crises, thinking about the unseen effects of the crisis and of our
intervention will increase our effectiveness, and perhaps more importantly,
careful attention on unseen effects will decrease the likelihood that our
intervention will make things worse.  In
crisis intervention, sometimes we will help, sometimes we will not help, but we
want to do everything we can to be sure that we do not make matters worse.




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