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For individuals in crisis, crisis
communication must lead to modification and clarification of their feelings,
emotions, and ideas, thereby enabling them to better deal with their present
situation.  For example, if a teenage boy
becomes very angry with someone who made a pass at his girl friend and is
fighting the impulse to get revenge, crisis communication should modify and
defuse his anger while, at the same time, helping to clarify the implications
of “seeking revenge.”  If a young child
has had a very traumatic experience and is withdrawing and turning his feelings
in on himself, crisis communication should help him modify his feelings
somewhat and enable him to “talk them out.”

In any crisis situation in which
our intervention hypothesis directs us to focus on the individual, our goal is
to help him modify, clarify, and cope with his feelings and thoughts.  Our skill in and knowledge about dealing with
feelings and thoughts need to be made available to the individual for his use
in understanding and coping with his own thoughts and feelings.  Before we became involved, he was dealing
with his feelings and thoughts through his own internal communication
process.  It is, then, our goal to become
a part of that internal communication process by letting him “use us” to
supplement and support his own communication skills and capacities.

Mr. I is a skilled laborer at a
local manufacturing company.  You ask
him, ‘What’s happening?”  He says, “I’m
really in a mess,” and he goes on to explain a rather complicated situation to
you.  As with most people in crisis, he
does not present the details in a logical sequence but brings up another
problem before finishing the first.  He
has been laid off from his job and will not start getting his unemployment
checks for two or three weeks.  He is
behind in his bills, and his daughter had surgery a few days ago.  His wife is fairly depressed and has been
nagging him for weeks.  She has gotten to
a point where she will not go out of the house even to do the grocery
shopping.  He built a new set of
bookshelves for her in the family room, and she has done nothing but complain
about them since he finished.  He has a
racecar he has been working on for several years.  It is just about finished, but his partner
will not put up the three hundred dollars of his share to finish the work.  He is union steward, and with all the
layoffs, everyone expects him to do something about it.  He wants to quit as union steward, but his
wife accuses him of having no ambition and of not wanting to get ahead.  He was in an automobile accident a few months
ago, and the other driver is suing him, saying that he injured his back.  The accident was not Mr. I’s fault, but his
attorney will not defend him in court until Mr. I can come up with enough money
to pay the fee.  His wife thinks she’s
pregnant, and that is his fault too, according to her.  His doctor tells him that he should go into
the hospital for a few days to have some tests run to see what is causing his
headaches and chest pains.  On top of all
that, his wife’s parents are “on him” about not providing better for his kids
and not helping his wife more.  Things
are really a mess.

From Mr. I’s point of view, nothing
is working out; the harder he tries, the worse things get.  How can you make your thinking and planning
skills available to him?  First, it may
help if Mr. I can think about his problems in categories.  To do so may begin to get the confusion into
some manageable order.  He has numerous
financial difficulties, including his bills, the attorney’s fee, and the money
for his racecar.  Perhaps it will be
helpful if he concentrates on his bills and the attorney’s fee, leaving the
racecar problem for the time being.  He
has several problems involving pressures from other people, including his wife,
his in-laws, and his union steward job. 
Perhaps he could drop the union steward job for the time being,
accepting some increased criticism and pressure from his wife.  He has some physical problems, including
headaches and chest pains.  These
symptoms are potentially quite serious, and even if they turn out to be a
result of his being so upset, it is important for him to follow his doctor’s
advice.  His wife is depressed and
withdrawn.  Maybe she would accept a
suggestion that she go to the local mental health center for some
counseling.  It might be helpful if Mr.
and Mrs. I went to the center together.

Next, we can help him think about
those problems that are extremely important and need immediate attention and
those that can wait for a while.  Then we
can help him think about those difficulties that he can do something about and
those that he cannot.  For example, he
works very hard to provide for his family and his in-laws’ criticism is not
really justified.  Perhaps they are just
critical people.  In any event, there is
little if anything he can do about that. 
As we begin to help him think about his situation, his numerous problems
will begin to take on some order.  At
that point, he can begin to work on those things he is able to do something
about, recognizing those things that are not open to change and worrying about
them less.  An old prayer comes to
mind.  It asks for guidance to change the
things we can change, insight to accept the things we cannot change, and the
good sense to know the difference.  As
you talk with Mr. I, you gradually modify and clarify his messages in a way
that enables him to plan and think ahead, that is, you make your thinking and
planning skills available to him.

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