Cultural Implications of Crisis Intervention

By Dykeman, Bruce F. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Cultural Implications of Crisis Intervention


Dykeman, Bruce F., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Elements and components of crisis situations are identified. Strategies and sequences of crisis intervention are described. Cultural implications of crisis intervention are discussed.

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A crisis event is seldom anticipated. By its very nature, a crisis represents an unanticipated event during which coping mechanisms are temporarily compromised and adaptive living is jeopardized (Caplan, 1964). Personal crises may stein from sudden life-affecting events or from a combination of accumulated problems. However, a crisis is a critical phase in one's life during which normal ways of dealing with the world are suddenly interrupted (Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D'Andrea, 2003). Typically, responses to a crisis are time limited, yet may persist into symptoms of acute stress or post-traumatic stress.

Crises are universal in nature and affect people from all cultures. Sources of crises are remarkably universal across cultural groups, and include such events as natural disasters, domestic violence, sudden change in marital status, death of a loved one, medical emergencies, loss of occupation, assault, and burglary.

Despite the universality of crisis provoking events, culture plays a strong role in how crisis is interpreted, both for the crisis intervener and the crisis victim (Pederson, 1987). Culture can influence how a provocation is interpreted and the meaning attributed to that provocation. Culture can also influence how individuals and communities express reactions to crisis provoking events. While reactions to crisis situations seem to be common throughout all cultures based upon the physiology of human beings, manifestations of responses may differ significantly. In this regard, culture forms a context through which individuals and communities view and appraise their own responses.

Culture also affects the responses of others to the provoking events, which is a critical issue for the crisis victim. In this regard, if people think that the society surrounding them will not accept them as victims, there is a tendency to withdraw, retreat and become silent. Indeed, if one's own culture, or the culture in which one exists, either rejects or stigmatizes a crisis victim, the victim experiences additional injury to the provoking events.

However, cultures can comfort the victim and aid the recovery process. Cultures may help define the pathways to healthy adjustment and may contribute to new lives constructed by victims after a traumatic event. The routines and traditions of culture ]nay aid survivors of a tragedy in regaining an orientation and making life predictable.

Each crisis situation is different, and can vary across a number of domains (James & Gilliland, 2001). A developmental crisis is associated with a sudden change in growth and development. Graduation from school, the birth of a child, or a career change exemplify antecedents preceding a developmental crisis. An existential crisis is associated with a reassessment and reflection upon the meaning and purpose of life, and may accompany a developmental crisis. An environmental crisis occurs when some natural or human-made disaster overtakes a person or group of people. A situational crisis represents an uncommon and extraordinary event for which an individual cannot possibly forecast or control. An automobile accident, a sexual assault, or the sudden death of a loved one exemplifies a situational crisis.

Symptoms of crises vary across individual and presenting circumstance. Typically, responses to a crisis include feelings of fear, shock and distress, which result in a disruption of emotional equilibrium. Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder may be apparent, including a subjective sense of numbing and detachment, a reduction in the awareness of one's surroundings, a sense of derealization and depersonalization, and an inability to recall important aspects of the precipitating circumstances (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). …

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