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What is conflict?  We know where it is.  It is located in the interaction between the
individual and his total situation. 
Essentially, conflict is whatever people think it is.  If the individual or someone else in his
total situation thinks or feels that things are not right or are not as they
should be, there is conflict.  The point
warrants further discussion.  If the
individual or someone in his total situation (husband, wife, son, daughter,
doctor, minister, teacher, friend, policeman, etc.) thinks or feels that the effect
on the individual or on his behavior is not as it ought to be or that something
or someone within his total situation is having a negative or an undesirable
effect on him, then there is conflict. 
Less specifically, if the individual or someone in his total situation
thinks or feels that the interaction between the individual and his total
situation is “messed up” or problematic, there is conflict.  In crisis intervention, our orientation is to
the individual in crisis.  We will start
with his understanding of the conflict, knowing that he is usually the best
judge of whether or not there is a conflict. 
If he tells us that a conflict exists within his interaction, we will
accept the existence of the conflict as a fact. 
Alternatively, if someone else in his total situation tells us that
there is a serious conflict or crisis, we will initially accept that report as
true and follow through with our efforts to understand and resolve the
conflict.  This initial intervention may
lead us to the conclusion that there really is no crisis and that someone is
overreacting, making a big deal over nothing. 
Usually, though, family, friends, employers, neighbors, police, and
others are fairly accurate when they tell us someone is really hurting or is in
a crisis.  Our task is to find out for
ourselves by evaluating the individual, his total situation, and the
interaction.  If there is a crisis, we
can help the individual resolve it.  If
no crisis exists, our interest and intervention will help the alarmed family,
friend, employer, neighbor, police, or others to calm down, better understand
the situation, and not worry so much.

Occasionally, especially if we have
a professional relationship with the individual, we will be the one who
recognizes and points out the existence of the conflict.  But regardless of who recognizes the conflict
and initiates intervention, we will continue our intervention process until the
conflict is, itself, resolved or until our judgment and experience let us know
that there really is no crisis.

Mr. E calls on the hot line.  You are a young woman and initially feel that
you have received a crank call.  The
caller has difficulty talking, slurs his words, and appears to be drunk.  “What’s you name, honey?  I’ll bet you’d be a lot of fun.  [You give him your telephone name and ask
him: Can we help you?]  I’m here having a
few drinks.  Do you want to come down and
have a little drink with me?  [You say:
We just talk to people on the telephone. 
Can we help you?]  Oh, come on
now, I’ll bet you’d like a little drink. 
I won’t get fresh; we’ll just have a little drink and talk about
things.  We’ll just talk and keep each
other company.  That way we won’t have to
be alone.  I bet you don’t like to be
alone either, do you?  [You say: It’s
pretty rough sometimes when we’re alone and don’t have anyone to talk to.]  I don’t want you to get to thinking that I
don’t have any friends or anything.  I
have lots of friends.  They are all busy,
and I don’t know where they are tonight. 
I usually have lots of friends and lots of people to talk to, but
tonight I’m just here by myself having a little drink.  I’m just having a little drink.  You probably think I’m drunk, but I’m just
having a little drink.  You have a really
sexy voice—has anyone ever told you your voice is sexy?  [You say: Thank you.  You sound kind of lonely.]  It’s been lonely since she died.  My wife, she died a while back.  [You say: That’s sad.  How long have you been alone?]  It’s been three weeks now.  I just can’t get used to it.  I’ve started drinking a little too much, and
nothing seems to matter much one way or the other anymore.  [The caller is noticeably sobbing.  You say: Do you have any kids or other
family?]  Five, but they are all grown
now.  They’ve moved away and have their
own lives.  I’m by myself and don’t know
what to do.  I just need someone to talk
to.  I’m sorry to bother you.  [You say: You’re not bothering me.  I want to talk if you want to talk for a
while.]  It’s good to have someone to
talk to; I get so lonely.  I don’t know
what to say.  I’m sorry for getting fresh
with you.  I just can’t stand the
loneliness.  I had to talk to someone.”

The incident with Mr. E shows that
we should always assume that the individual does have a serious problem.  Had the volunteer followed her initial
reaction, she would have dismissed Mr. E as a crank caller and would have
missed an important opportunity to help. 
The point is that conflict is whatever the individual or someone else
says it is.  Initially, someone may have
difficulty explaining the conflict to us or helping us understand that a
conflict really exists.  In crisis
intervention, we accept any report of the conflict as true and pursue the
situation until we have enough information to be absolutely convinced that an
important conflict does not exist. 
Skillful crisis intervention never takes a possible crisis situation
lightly and never jumps to the conclusion that the individual is merely a crank.

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