Do we have a right to intervene? If the situation really is a crisis (has high now potential and low self-resolution factor), we not only have a right to intervene but we also have a responsibility to intervene. This responsibility is based on our mutual responsibility and a very human interest in one another. A value framework underlying human services and crisis intervention specifically directs us to do what is reasonable and necessary for the well-being and welfare of people receiving our help. The parallel with the Good Samaritan is clear.
Will the individual in crisis get angry with us, accuse us of meddling, tell us to leave him alone? Perhaps. Will our efforts be appreciated? Will people see that we are making a sincere effort to help them? Perhaps not. The question for us is, “When the ‘now potential’ is high and the self-resolution factor is low, do we, at a feeling/valuing level, have any real choice other than to do what we can to help?” Of course, if someone might die or if something else terrible might happen, we will try to help. If the individual or someone close to him has asked, we will help. At other times, our intervention will be required by virtue of our job or position. Will you take a chance? There are personal, emotional, and interpersonal risks, and our willingness to take such risks is an important part of what we bring to crisis intervention. Professional counselors and psychotherapists know about the balancing act between over involvement and under-involvement. As a volunteer, student, or other newcomer to crisis intervention, you will need to develop a feel for and an understanding of the risks for yourself. Not to take the risk, though, many times means pulling back from the opportunity to help. Whatever the situation or circumstance, when a real crisis exists we will intervene, knowing that it is usually better to do too much than too little.
Our intervention should be directed by three specific considerations. First, is our intervention reasonable? Based on our knowledge and understanding of crisis intervention and people in crisis, does the present situation really have a high “now potential” and a low self-resolution factor? A different kind of crisis may illustrate the point.
A camp director is sitting in the dining hall one evening, enjoying the peace and quiet of a solitary cup of coffee. A counselor comes running into the hall. He is quite out of breath. “Do you know what I just saw? You’ll never believe it! Do you know what those kids are doing? [The director says: No, what are they doing?] There is a bunch of those high school kids fooling around down by the path to the swimming pool. What are we going to do about it? This is terrible! Come down there with me so we can get this straightened out. What are you going to do about it? [The director says: I don’t know. What do you think I should do about it?] You should go down there right now and break that up and have a good talk with them about that sort of thing.[The director says: If that’s all they’re doing, they will probably break it up in a little while, anyway. It’s almost time for taps. Let’s see if they don’t just go back to their cabins themselves.]”
The director seemed to understand that crisis intervention should be resorted to only when intervention is reasonable. The now potential of the situation was apparently fairly low, and since it was almost time for taps, the crisis would probably resolve itself fairly quickly. People will often try to get us involved in situations that are not really crisis. At other times, they may be extremely upset and try to manipulate us into doing things that the situation does not actually call for. Sometimes, the individual may be so upset that we overreact to a relatively minor crisis. We must be careful to assess the now potential and the self-resolution factor carefully in order to decide whether or not intervention is reasonable. In addition, our decision should include a judgment about how serious the situation really is. What level and intensity of intervention would be reasonable given the present situation?
Second, we should consider the appropriateness of our intervention. We have determined that intervention is reasonable and have made a judgment about the level and intensity of intervention required. There may be a lot of things we could do about the problem. We must carefully think about each of our options and choose only those that, given the particular individual and circumstances, are appropriate. In the earlier case of Ann, Mr. Z chose to report Ann to the police when he discovered that she was using drugs. He had several other intervention alternatives. He could have calmly discussed the problem with Ann, he could have referred her to the guidance counselor, he could have chosen to ignore the problem, he could have disciplined her within the school, he could have called her parents and involved them in the problem, and so on. In that situation, Mr. Z had to choose the most appropriate intervention option. In other situations, we may consider obviously inappropriate intervention approaches. For example, we may decide to let a runaway teenager stay with us for a few days without notifying his parents, the police, or other authorities. Even though intervention is necessary and the teenager needs someplace to stay, our failure to notify his parents or some other authority is probably inappropriate.
Third, our consideration of the reasonableness and appropriateness of our intervention must include the ethics of intervention. Obviously, a sexual or other intimate involvement with the individual in a time of extreme stress and crisis would be unethical. Similarly, it would usually be unethical to take it upon ourselves to inform other people about the individual’s problems, circumstances, feelings, and so on. Unless there are unusual extenuating circumstances, ethical considerations preclude violating the individual’s confidence. We have invited the individual to share his or her feelings and very personal thoughts with us. Implied in this invitation is our agreement to keep those thoughts and feelings confidential.
If you are a member of a professional group, your professional ethics will apply in all crisis intervention situations. If you are a volunteer involved in crisis intervention, the organization for which you work will have specific policies and standards regarding ethical conduct. If, however, you have carefully considered the crisis, have determined it’s now potential to be high and its self-resolution factor to be low, believe that intervention is reasonable, feel that your method of intervention is appropriate, and restrict intervention to ethical activities in the individual’s best interest, you can and should intervene. Not only do you have the right but you also have a responsibility to intervene.