Crisis Intervention Techniques – Setting Boundaries

Starting my professional career in the mental health industry as a psych-tech when I was 19 years old, I had no real idea of the challenges that I would encounter working with Dually Diagnosed and At-Risk Youth. I had no real understanding of what crisis intervention techniques were. I knew I wanted to help kids get on the right path, and find the hope they needed to move through adversity. What I didn’t know was just how exhausting trying to help them would be. Over 20 years later, I can look back and see how lucky I was to have such an opportunity.

Crisis Intervention Techniques – A Bad Day

Getting yelled at, called names, having urine and feces thrown on me, getting kicked, punched, spat on, having clothing ripped and torn, witnessing horrible behavior, and hearing stories of terrible abuse from the past, was simply par for the course.

This collection of years and years of challenging experiences is what led to my creating a company built around keeping kids safe from themselves, and the staff working with them. I had no grasp that this work would become the origin of a new method to handle aggressive behavior: the method of Crisis Intervention Training.

Needed: Crisis Intervention Techniques That Work

Over the years working in the hospital I realized that there was a direct link between setting firm limits and boundaries and the amount of abuse I experienced. One of my first supervisors had given me some great advice. When I first heard, it though, I thought it was not such good advice. He told me, “Brendan, you can be friendly, but don’t be their friend.” I thought to myself, this guy is just cold hearted. Of course I was there to be a friend. What I then came to realize, however, was that he was right. That statement would become one of many simple yet effective crisis intervention techniques. It wasn’t about being a friend to each kid, it was about making sure the 7-20 days or so that I was involved in their lives, I did everything I could to get them on the right track. Insurance companies did not grant us enough time to be their friend. Insurance companies didn’t allow us the extra days of stay to really get to know each and every kid. What we had to do in the few days and hours we had, was to break through, rebuild, and inspire each and every kid to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, these kids came to us with layer upon layer of hurt, anger, depression, fear, guilt, and shame; shielding them from our attempts to make a connection.

When dealing with those layers, staff would often get entangled in power struggles, arguments over chores, and redirection after redirection for challenging behavior. Sadly, the real progress could not happen because staff members had not set up firm limits for the kids to understand and recognize as “limits.” Staff often struggled to be “friends” vs. holding them accountable and holding them to a standard that needed to be held in order for real treatment and therapy to occur. Finding your own personal boundaries and limits as a staff member in these environments takes a few years (in my experience) and comes with many mistakes along the way. Over time, similar strategies will become defined, as well as additional crisis intervention techniques which will become hallmarks of your effectiveness during challenging situations.

Crisis Intervention Techniques – Putting It All Together

Focus on being firm, fair, and consistent. Focus on following through. Focus on making a respectful, friendly, and supportive connection with each and every individual you are entrusted with caring for, while ensuring they understand the role you are trying to play in their lives. Focus on listening and relating, while maintaining a healthy emotional and professional distance from what you hear. Focus on staying grounded as a staff member and checking in with yourself and your coworkers regularly to stay the course. Working with hurt, damaged, and broken people is hard. Ensure you keep yourself on solid ground. Hold the line, defend the line, and negotiate only when it serves the greater good.