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Clear crisis focus leads to a clear definition of the crisis.  If we can confidently answer the four focus questions, then we can define the crisis.  We know what the crisis is, what is wrong, how bad it may get, who is affected, and why our intervention is required.  As we will see, knowing these things gives us a firm foundation for the development of our intervention strategy.

Mrs. F calls the hot line.  She is crying and seems somewhat desperate.  She had called the hot line a few minutes earlier but had hung up rather abruptly.  You tell her that you are glad she called back; you had been worried about her.  “I was telling you about my son.  He is still not going to school.  Just doesn’t pay any attention to me.  I have told him and told him that he is going to get into trouble.  Just won’t listen.  Kids these days think they know it all and won’t pay attention to anyone.  He may be involved in drugs.  I know he’s running around with a no-good bunch.  They already have been into it with the police.  [You ask: What happened?]  Two or three of them stole a car and went for a joy ride.  The police finally stopped them, but no charges were filed.  He keeps doing it and getting off.  I hope it catches up with him one of these days.  I finally talked to an attorney about it and decided to have him brought to juvenile court.  My family thinks I’m terrible.  They think I’m wrong.  They think I don’t love him.  ‘How could I do that to him if I really love him?’  They just don’t know.  They don’t have to live with him.  He just comes and goes as he pleases.  He’s never home unless I have company.  Then he’s always around acting smart and showing off.  He always messes things up for me.  I don’t know.  Maybe if I had stayed with his dad, he could have handled him.  I sure can’t.  [You ask: Are you and his father divorced?]  About ten years now.  I can’t be mother and father both.  I tried, but the bills and the house and everything are just too much.  I have been dating a very nice man, and I’m afraid he’ll quit coming around because of the way my son acts.  I think I have a right to some happiness, too, and my son just keeps messing things up for me.

“He’s been stealing from me, too.  I confronted him about it today, and he went into a rage.  He shook his fist at me, and I thought he was really going to hit me.  Sometimes I really get worried about him and what he might do.  He had epilepsy when he was little, and I’m afraid he really might hurt someone one of these days.  I hope they lock him up or something—no, that’s terrible.  I shouldn’t say that.  I shouldn’t even think it.  I just can’t stand him sometimes; he keeps messing up my life.  I just know my friend won’t be back anymore.  I really can’t blame him.  He’s a nice man with money and everything.  He could do a lot better than me.  I’d kill myself if I weren’t such a coward.  [You say: I hope you don’t do that.  Do you think about that a lot?]  A lot more than I used to.  It just seems like nothing ever works out for me.  [You say: Have you talked with you boyfriend about the problems with your son?]  I’m afraid to.  I’m afraid of what he might say.  He might just say, ‘Forget it.’  I couldn’t stand that.  [You say: I guess that would just be the final straw.]  I don’t know.  I love my son, but I just don’t know how to help him.  I don’t think anyone can help him.”

As you talk with Mrs. F, a picture of her and her situation gradually develops.  She has been divorced for several years and has developed a relationship with a man about whom she cares a great deal.  She is having a lot of difficulty with her teenage son and apparently has had trouble with him for quite some time.  We know that he had epilepsy when he was younger and that he is getting into a lot of trouble.  This is a source of great stress to Mrs. F and puts her in a bind between her family and what she thinks she ought to do about her son’s difficulties.  In addition, we know that she is feeling overburdened by her various responsibilities, including paying the bills and keeping her household in order.

If we think about the difficulties she has had with her son and the fact that she has carried this responsibility for him over several years, it would seem that Mrs. F is a fairly strong woman who is feeling overwhelmed and trapped between her responsibilities for her son and her own personal need for happiness.  She is angry, frustrated, and confused about her present situation and does not feel that things are going to work out very well.  She is clearly in a crisis.  The now potential is that she might do something destructive.  The self-resolution factor is fairly low because she sees no way out of the bind between her son, her family, and her own desire to find happiness with her boyfriend.  We know a little about her past, understand about her present, and “feel” for the way she expects her future to be.  The precipitating event was her son’s going into a rage and threatening to hit her.  That was the final insult.  Our focus on the crisis combines with our definition of that crisis as we gradually start to help her think clearly and plan ahead.

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