Crisis Counseling: an Overview

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Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 46(3), 2009
Published online in Wiley InterScience (


2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/pits.20370


University of the Pacific
Psychologists working in schools are often the first contacts for children experiencing a potentially traumatizing event or change in status. This article reviews basic concepts in crisis counseling and describes the components of psychological first aid. This form of counseling must be developmentally and culturally appropriate as well as individualized. Effective intervention can prevent post-traumatic stress syndrome and facilitate normal mourning processes associated with any losses experienced. These prevention activities are also discussed. Some children may need resources beyond those that the school can provide, and appropriate referrals can link children and adults to a variety of treatments such as psychotherapy and medication, also briefly outlined. C 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Most children and adults are resilient and have ways of coping with stressful events. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH; 2001), recovery from crisis exposure is the norm. Children usually need minimal assistance from family members, teachers, clergy, or other caring adults. Others, particularly those with few social supports, enter into a crisis state (Barenbaum, Ruchkin, & Schwab-Stone, 2004; Caffo & Belaise, 2003; Litz, Gray, Bryant, & Adler, 2002; Ozer, Best, Lipsey, & Weiss, 2003).

People in crisis are in what Caplan (1964) terms a state of psychological disequilibrium. This disequilibrium occurs when a hazardous event challenges normal psychological adaptation and coping. Individuals often behave irrationally and withdraw from normal social contacts. They cannot be helped using usual counseling or teaching techniques. Nevertheless, children in...
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