Crisis Prevention and Intervention
Dealing with student crises is a sad, but very important part of our job as school-based counselors, educators, and administrators. With so much tragedy in the news these days over school violence, I thought it was time that I share my protocols for crisis prevention and intervention. A student crisis is defined as any situation where a student feels there is/was/may be physical harm to self or harm to another. At my school, we call these the “3 hurts” and we use this phrase repeatedly with students and staff to create a common language:
- They want to hurt themselves physically
- They want to hurt another physically
- Someone threatens or hurts them or another physically
I work with a very high trauma, and thus high crisis, population. To give you an idea, we had 214 student crises at my school last year. So, this is what I do and I have a lot of experience with it. I wish I could say that high crisis numbers in schools are limited to small pockets here and there, but that is not the case. In my work and conversations with school counselors, educators, and mental health professionals all over the state of Texas and throughout the USA, the message is the same: for the last 10 years, we have seen an unprecedented explosion of student crisis and every year it seems to increase. It would take a dissertation to go into all the reasons behind this crisis increase, so we’ll leave that for someone else to write. For today, I hope to give you lots of crisis prevention and intervention techniques that you can use to create a preventative, proactive culture at your school!
It was 8:30 am on the first day of school and I was rushing around my office getting materials together to head to the library to begin the tidal wave of scheduling first day enrollees for their classes. Just as I was about to leave my office, there was a timid knock on my door. I opened the door to a former student who stammered out that she had a “3 Hurts” emergency to report. So, I set down all my stacks of student scheduling materials and cleared some space for her to sit down with me to tell her story. As we settled ourselves in my cluttered office, my mind focused on the hopeful possibility that it might not actually be a “3 Hurts Emergency” as we call them in my school and that maybe it was something far less serious. But, I was doubtful, since we thoroughly train our students from the day they walk through the front doors about the “3 Hurts Emergency” and how they MUST come straight to us if they ever they have one of these. As I listened to her tell her story of a friend that had been abused all summer by a relative, it was immediately apparent that this kiddo’s friend was definitely in crisis. And with that, my former student hopped out of her chair, visibly relieved at unburdening herself, and headed off to start her day. I, meanwhile, called my admin to find another staff member to do all the scheduling I had planned to do, and then I spent the next several hours working with my school’s police officer to bring about a safe resolution for the friend. Happily, I can report that all’s well that ends well and after a tense 3 hours of many interventions, student and family were able to get the help they so desperately needed.
For this reason, I have included my own crisis resources below so you, too, can be that beacon of light for your students, letting them go about their day of learning, while you work to keep them and their world safe.
Types of Crisis and a Crisis Protocol
So, the “3 Hurts” can take many different forms. Here are the 3 major types and some example of each with helpful links for explanations:
Harm to Self
You Want to Harm Another Person
- Explosive anger
- Wanting to fight another student
- Homicidal thoughts
- Violence towards a staff member
Someone threatens or harms you
My school counseling office has a set protocol for dealing with student crises, or “3 Hurts Emergencies” as we like to call them. Whenever a student, parent, or staff member sends to/comes to us with a student emergency, we drop whatever we are doing to deal with it right away. An important part of our counseling program is that we thoroughly train our students and staff from the day they walk through the front doors about the “3 Hurts Emergency” and how they MUST come straight to us with an emergency. Thus, we rarely get false alarms. In fact, this school year alone, I’ve handled over 75 crisis situations, of varying severity, at the Title 1 public school where I work as a school counselor. So, for that reason, I have included this link to my School Counselor Stephanie website so you scroll down on my Resources page to access my “Crisis Intervention Steps and Resources” downloadable.
Most importantly, follow these three key tips in handling a crisis:
- Talk immediately to the student and the parent/guardian.
- Document, document, document.
- Consult with your administration and co-counselor- do NOT work on a crisis alone.
A Warning about Suicide/Violence Screeners…
Be very careful, if you dare to use them at all, for the following reasons:
- They greatly increase the school and staff liability if a student is hurt.
- A suicide screener or mental health assessment is a clinical tool that should be administered in a clinical environment by a clinician.
- If you administer a schoolwide screener, are you prepared if hundreds of your students make a mental health outcry? Do you have the mental health staff immediately available to thoroughly investigate each mental health issue and complete all the crisis intervention steps? If not, you make the school system and yourself very vulnerable to a lawsuit if a student is hurt.
Here is an ASCA article on this topic: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/magazine/blogs/november-december-2013/suicide-contracts,-assessments-and-parental-guardi
Instead of using screeners or assessments in schools, it is best practice to communicate the facts that the student tells you to their parents/guardians.
Crisis Prevention Tips and Techniques
The entire student body should receive regular monthly crisis prevention instruction in class or guidance lessons so they know who to go to for help and how to get that help in a crisis. Begin every lesson with these crisis prevention reminders and information:
- How to see the counselor (request forms for non-emergencies)
- The “3 hurts emergency” and how to get help
- All school staff are mandated reporters by law
- Tips to prevent the “3 hurts”
Teach a quick mini lesson on crisis prevention as part of every monthly lesson. Some of our mini lesson topics are:
- Healthy coping skills
- Eating healthy
- Getting enough sleep
- Talking to someone about your problems
- And more!
A guidance lesson to middle schoolers on how skipping meals can affect your mood and emotions.
Begin every lesson with how to talk to the counselor about when to fill out a request to see the Counselor VS when to report a crisis “the 3 hurts”.
In Small Groups
Crisis prevention in student support groups looks very similar to crisis prevention in monthly lessons.
In Texas (as in most states), behavioral and social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions are a part of and follow the Rti model. So in most cases, SEL lessons are a Tier 1 intervention and groups are a Tier 2 intervention. This means that, as with all RTI models, the intensity and the frequency of the intervention support (in this case, crisis prevention), is just increased at Tier 2 student support groups. In order to increase the frequency and intensity of crisis prevention at the Tier 2 group level, you can do the following:
- Start off every group session with some kind of healthy coping skill (HCS) activity. Here is a link to a Healthy Coping Skills lesson, if you need it.
- Share ideas on how members can practice/apply the HCS in their own lives.
- Process the HCS activity with a brief discussion on how it can help them to feel better during difficult or stressful times in their lives.
- Discuss how HCS are strategies of crisis prevention.
Also, just like in lessons, I start every group session with:
- how to access the school counselor for crisis and non-crisis situations
- a brief review of the strategies that we’ve learned in group to prevent crisis
Practicing mindfulness with the Mindful Minute activity from Get Your Group On: Multi Topic Small Group Counseling Guides, Volume Two.
Conflict resolution role plays from the boys counseling guide, Goals Make the Man.
Here are some of my other favorite crisis resources:
- Should You Worry About School Violence? https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/school-violence.html?ref=search&WT.ac=msh-t-dtop-en-search-clk
- Safe Schools and Crisis Response https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_SafeSchools.pdf
- Helping Students During Crisis https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/helping-kids-during-crisis
- TEEN TRUTH’s SEL Curriculum – http://www.risingupcoaching.com
- Helping Kids After a Shooting https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/shooting-resources
- Cautions about Using Crisis Assessments https://www.schoolcounselor.org/magazine/blogs/january-february-2018/assessments-and-third-party-software-alerts-for-su
- How to Help Someone Who is Suicidal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GoPiK3cWu0
- Suicide Prevention Resources https://www.samhsa.gov/programs-campaigns/tribal-training-technical-assistance-center/resources/suicide-prevention
- School Counselor Stephanie’s own guidance lesson on using healthy coping skills as a crisis prevention strategy.
Free Staff Presentation
In closing I’d like to leave you with a free staff presentation that that will help your school staff identify and prevent crisis in your school. Please comment below to share any strategies/interventions you have for helping a child in crisis– the more tools we all have to help kids, the better.
That’s all for today, Folks.
School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH