Family in Crisis

A crisis is defined by Merriam Webster (2015), as an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life that causes trauma.  Merriam Webster continues to define crisis as a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention.  The underlying characteristic of a crisis is resulting in trauma.  When something unexpected occurs it can result in traumatic reactions that affect not just the individual, but those that are in our everyday life, such as family.   James & Gilliland (2013), infer that a crisis can have “many different meanings, to different people” and the reactions can vary from people to people and event to event.   This paper will address how family can effectively deal with a family member in crisis without causing additional harm or trauma.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2015), tens of millions Americans suffer an emotional crisis each year.  A variety of crises can affect a family, including financial, separation, and health related crises and can test the strength and steadfastness of a family.  There is nothing that is more bothersome then seeing a loved one suffering from deep emotional pain; in fact it can be extremely stressful.  In order to intervene successfully it is imperative to remain calm and remain aware of any sensitivity.  The first step to helping someone in a crisis is to identify the signs.  One of the most common signs is a drastic change in behavior.   An individual suffering an emotional crisis may also neglect personal hygiene practices, change sleep pattern; such as excessive sleeping or not sleeping well, and they may also suffer withdrawal.  Other traumatic events such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack can result in a crisis in a much shorter period of time.  However, most often the victim’s behavior will change gradually.  It can be found most helpful to look back over the last several months and review the changes of behavior.  Much like Merriam Webster alluded, it is ever so important not to delay and address your concerns immediately.  It is better to intervene early, before your loved one’s emotional distress becomes an emergency situation; in which they cause self-inflicted harm to themselves or others.  Once you have determined your loved one is experiencing a crisis, reaching out and providing support in a non-judgmental way is the best approach in beginning the intervention.   Addressing your concerns with a large group may be stressful and cause more trauma to the individual.  It is suggested by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (2014) to begin a light hearted conversation one on one with the victim while leading them to open up about the distress and trauma they are experiencing.  The rule of thumb is to allow the loved one to speak while you listen without interrupting, passing judgment, or blame to the victim.

Connecting with your loved one and providing support may help your family member release negative energy and help get a handle on the emotional crisis.  In order to address the inner issues of the crisis further, you can suggest professional help with a psychologist.  Offer to be involved through each step of the process if the individual requests it.  Each person is different and how they work through the emotions with a trained therapist will also vary.  Family members can explain to a reluctant trauma victim that a psychologist has specialized training that makes them an expert in understanding and treating the underlying emotional conflict.  A therapist will teach the victim techniques that will make them skillful in dealing with the challenges as they arise in order to successfully work through uncomfortable situations and avoid trauma.

Working through an emotional crisis with a family member can be extremely stressful for everyone involved in the intervention.  The affects can be overwhelming and do not discriminate.  There may be an extreme rollercoaster of emotions that affect the family including restlessness, anger, and hopelessness.   It can be difficult when the loved one in crisis decides he/she does not need any help and may accuse you of betrayal. (Mayo Clinic, 2014)  Families may be torn apart during the crisis and may suffer extreme trauma.  It is important for families to remain focused on every day responsibilities and be prepared for a negative response to the intervention, but never give up hope.

When working through a crisis families should remain united and provide emotional support to the loved one suffering.  It can be difficult, but remaining patient and direct will help everyone manage the crisis together.  It is important to care for all personal needs including: physical, emotional, and social throughout the intervention and healing process.  Healthy families keep sound minds and are able to cope better and the road to recovery will be speedily.


Define Crisis. (2015, January 11). Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

James, R. & Gilliland, B. (2013). Crisis Intervention Theories. (7th ed.). Cengage Learning Inc. Obtained from

Statistics. (2015, April 12). Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Dealing with Crisis and Traumatic Events. (2014). Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

Who should be on the intervention team? (2014, September 26). Retrieved June 14, 2015, from

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