The Role of Collaboration in Crisis Intervention

Crises—individual, couple, family, and systemic—are complex and multifaceted. They typically affect people across many different areas of life, as the consequences of any given crisis may include physical, medical, emotional, financial, and/or legal aspects. Thus, effective intervention rarely can be carried out by a single human services professional. Instead, human services professionals must initiate collaborative relationships with professionals from any number of fields. Doctors, nurses, police officers, and lawyers are just a few examples of the types of individuals who might collaborate during a crisis intervention. Moreover, a human services professional likely will coordinate care for his or her client with other human services professionals who specialize in particular types of treatment. For example, a human services professional who works at an emergency shelter following a natural disaster may be the first point of contact for a victim who has lost his or her home. After assessing the client, the human services professional might determine that the client would benefit from therapy with a licensed counselor who has experience in working with natural disaster survivors, and thus refer the client to a colleague with this area of expertise. In addition, the human services professional might contact a representative from a state or federal agency to help the client secure long-term shelter. The human services professional, similarly, might consult a social worker to discuss financial assistance options for the client and his or her family or a doctor or nurse if there are any persistent medical problems. Thus, collaborative crisis intervention is a team effort, involving the participation and cooperation of professionals across multiple fields—all with the common goal of helping a client effectively cope with a crisis in his or her life.

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In many cases, the first point of contact for a survivor of a crisis is not a human services professional, but a medical professional or a police officer. A woman who has been sexually assaulted likely will see doctors and nurses before being counseled by a rape crisis worker. A woman who is being abused by her husband may call the police. As a result, it is important for professionals in other fields to have training in treating or interacting with victims of crisis, as well as know to call in counselors, social workers, rape crisis workers, or other human services professionals as needed. In many places, this need is recognized and happens through the formation of specially trained teams of law enforcement officers called Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs). These teams comprise police officers who are adept at handling calls involving mental illness, domestic violence, or other crisis situations. In addition, many hospitals employ Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs), also called forensic nurses, who are trained to treat sexual assault victims with sensitivity to the physical, emotional, and legal aspects of the situation. The use of CITs and SANEs does not eliminate the need for additional collaboration later and in fact, is a form of collaboration itself. By working together throughout the training process, law enforcement officers, medical workers, and human services professionals ensure that crisis victims receive collaborative care from the very first point of contact.

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