Emotional or mental crisis response.

Robert Barton 

            As martial arts instructors we hold positions of respect in the eyes of our students and they often turn to us when they are confused or upset. They will ask for advice and guidance. Most of the time what they really need to for someone to listen to them for a moment, and really hear them and to accept their concerns as valid. Often after listening we can simply acknowledge the concern as valid and help them explore options and examine possibilities. Occasionally a little bit of common sense advice can help but it is best to help them to find their own solution. But occasionally a student approaches us with something that is serious and which we are not qualified or equipped to manage. We come to believe that the student may be experiencing some sort of emotional or mental crisis. As an authority figure we need to act appropriately in order to help a student.

            First of all we should not act as though we are therapists and if a student gives you the impression that he or she should see a professional you should try to send that student to see someone or at least recommend an initial therapy session for evaluation. If a student seems to need to discuss problems and issues with you regularly or repeatedly discusses the same issue you have to consider that the student may have reached a point where a therapist could help. Simply by us being in our position and recommending a therapist or therapy to a student may help to remove any sense of stigma that the student may harbor. It could be an important thing that we do for this person. We must also realize that even very young children can require therapy and no person is too young or too old to not have a mental or emotional crisis.

            Our fist sign is often a feeling. I know that is not a text book characteristic of crisis in others, but no matter what the actual reasons are we may start to get a feeling that someone is emotionally or mentally suffering beyond his or her capacity to manage. We get these feeling based on thousands of subtle clues in communication and we should always react to those feelings in a way that acknowledges that they have a cause and should be considered valid. These feelings should never be ignored and are based on the less intentional clues given off by another. Acting on these feelings can start with something as simple as expressing your sense of concern to a student or parent. You may find that measures are already being taken and this will assure you that the person can manage the suffering or is getting help managing.

            Sometimes the sign is as simple as a person telling us. He or she may say something to indicate that help is needed or wanted. Expressions of severe depression or sadness or lack of desire to go on. We may even hear threats to self harm.  These messages are strong and are far more intentional than the very subtle clues that we may get that cause us to get an uneasy feeling. These are valid and it tells us that the person is somewhat aware of the intensity of suffering and is recognizing that it is getting beyond the ability of the individual to manage. It is easier to explain to the person why we are concerned since it is based on things that he or she has said or expressed and or ways that he or she has behaved.

            For our purposes here we see a person going into crisis when the individual has a sense of hopelessness. There are three primary areas which help stabilize a person those are; predictability, control and awareness of current situation. Predictability is the feeling that the person has that he or she has some idea of what will happen next. Control is the sense that he or she has some sort of control or voice in the situation. Awareness is the feeling that he or she has some idea of what is going on. When a person losses the three things he or she feels like he or she has no idea what is happening or what will happen next and a complete lack of control of events or the situation. This is an extremely dangerous state for a person to be in and can become a severely threatening crisis situation.

            If we suspect an extreme crisis state we should try to get this person to help as soon as possible that may include calling emergency services, a parent, a spouse/partner or other relative or even a doctor or crisis hotline. In an extreme crisis a life may be I danger and we should act as though a life is in danger.

            Unless you are trained as a therapist you cannot diagnose or dismiss these types of issues. As a person that others look up to and to whom others turn when they need guidance you have a responsibility to act. Sometimes that action has to be based on knowing when you are out of your element and being wiling to recognize when an issues is beyond your scope and ability. Then you should be willing to reach out to others who may help this person who trusts you.

            This is in no way a comprehensive examination of these issues. We simply neither have room here nor is that our intention. We have to rely on some very basic things for making these judgments and calls. We should be willing to rely on these basic things even when it is something subtle that we feel but cannot really articulate well. And when we trust these things then we should be willing to say I cannot do this and give the best help that we can which may very well be not to try and handle the crisis but to get someone involved who can handle a crisis of this sort.

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