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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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