Working With At-Risk Youth – More Good Kids Than Bad?

When working with At-Risk Youth we must remember: “There Are More Good People Than Bad.” I remember hearing that statement on a show about 9/11. Translated into Crisis Intervention Training during a crisis it is important to remember that the person you are dealing with isn’t likely to be “all bad” or “evil.”

They may be so out of control and escalated that they may actually appear to be possessed by the devil, though that is not likely (After working in mental health or a human services profession long enough, you can easily relate to what I am saying). If a responder remembers that the person they are trying to help is not “bad”–they are simply just in need of serious help and assistance–it can help keep the responder grounded when items start flying around the room.

Another thought that comes to mind is that the responder must remember that not all persons/clients/subjects/patients are the same.  Just because one of them is acting out in crisis and is taking on characteristics that are challenging and resistant does not mean they represent the entire spectrum of people found in that situation or diagnosis.  That concept led me to remember a pivotal moment of my professional career:

During my time spent working in locked psychiatric treatment facilities, a few of the years were spent on a children’s mental health unit with kids 5yrs old and under. Over time, somewhat unconsciously, I began to think that all kids in that age group must behave and act like the ones in my care.  Day in and day out, dealing with the kids’ issues, over 40 hours a week makes an impact.  The screaming, yelling, fighting, crying, throwing things, punching, biting, and sad, depressed, hopeless, lonely, anxiety ridden, and fearful behavior was “normal” to see and witness.  I came to believe that it was nearly impossible to find any child that could actually “behave” or be “happy.”

Working With At-Risk Youth – Giving Back

A few years later, I was routinely being asked to speak at public schools to students about drug abuse, and the dangerous of at-risk behavior. On one occasion, when I was leaving a elementary school after an event, I remember seeing some younger students getting on buses to go home for the day.  I remember hearing them giggling, and seeing them smile as they played games with each other while waiting for their bus to be called.  They were actually laughing out loud and joking; smiling and truly happy.  While watching it for a few moments, I remember feeling that something was wrong. Uncomfortable. Something bad was about to happen, and I was standing there poised and ready to intervene.

Slowly then, as the moments passed, I began to realize that there was nothing wrong.  Nothing bad was going to happen.  I could “stand down.”  It was exactly as it was supposed to be.  This was “normal” and it was ok.  I became so overwhelmed by what I was hearing and seeing, I became tearful and broke down as I started for my car.   It was at that moment that I realized that I had truly forgotten what “normal” or “well-adjusted” was.  I hadn’t realized just how deeply working in that environment had affected me, and how hardened I had become.

It was in those few minutes that I was gracefully reminded why I had done that work and why I continue to teach crisis intervention training around the country today.  It was my job to help make sure the children, adolescents, and adults could return to a life filled with joy, and happiness and laughter like the ones I had just observed.