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How Crisis Intervention Therapy Provides Mental Health Support

Some mental health issues can and do rise to a crisis level. Crisis intervention therapy is a practical and quick-response method for dealing with mental health emergencies. It goes beyond traditional therapy, sometimes happening in a single session, focusing on stabilizing individuals in crisis and planning the next steps for their ongoing treatment. This approach […]

isbell oliva garcia grow therapy By Isbell Oliva-Garcia
Reflection of distraught woman on her bed.

Updated on Mar 28, 2024

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Some mental health issues can and do rise to a crisis level. Crisis intervention therapy is a practical and quick-response method for dealing with mental health emergencies. It goes beyond traditional therapy, sometimes happening in a single session, focusing on stabilizing individuals in crisis and planning the next steps for their ongoing treatment.

This approach isn’t limited to therapy settings; crisis hotlines also use it, providing support from trained volunteers or professionals even outside regular working hours.

In the world of mental health, crises can occur unexpectedly. Whether triggered by stressful events, past traumas, or sudden increases in symptoms, crisis intervention steps in to ensure immediate safety, offer coping strategies, and connect individuals with ongoing treatment options.

Let’s explore the practical aspects of crisis intervention, examining its application, understanding what triggers mental health crises, and highlighting its crucial role in providing support during urgent situations.

What is Crisis Intervention Therapy?

Crisis intervention therapy is a focused, short-term therapeutic approach designed to provide immediate mental health care interventions during times of acute psychological distress or crisis. This form of counseling aims to assist mood stabilization for those facing a mental health emergency, offering timely assistance and strategies to manage the immediate situation effectively.

Crisis intervention therapy provides relief and coping skills when emotions and stress overwhelm normal functioning, writes Melissa Galica, LPC. ‘This can reduce the risk of harm to self or others.’

Key strategies used in crisis intervention therapy include:

Crisis intervention therapy is applicable in various situations, including acute stress reactions, trauma, substance abuse crises, and other mental health emergencies. It plays a pivotal role in providing quick and targeted support to individuals in distress, helping them navigate the immediate challenges they face.

What Causes a Mental Health Crisis?

There are several factors that can trigger mental health crises, often arising unexpectedly. Understanding the diverse causes behind a crisis is essential, as it allows for a more nuanced approach to intervention and support. Here are some common triggers:

Stressful or Traumatic Events

Individuals may enter a crisis state following highly stressful or traumatic events. The overwhelming nature of such experiences can compromise the long-term wellbeing of individuals, potentially leading to a mental health crisis. 

Crisis intervention involves urgent psychological intervention following trauma. ‘The goal is to help survivors decrease distress, regain emotional stability, and adapt effectively’ (Flannery & Everly, 2000, in Zhang, Zhou, & Li, 2015).

Triggering of Past Traumas

Even if a traumatic event occurred in the past, individuals may experience minimal symptoms after the trauma but still experience a crisis later in life. Therapeutic interventions aim to break the cycle of catastrophic appraisal and extreme distress, helping people to recognize that their reactions are not abnormal and that they still possess inner strength. The goal is to transition individuals from a state of disarray to effective coping. 

Acute Increase in Mental Health Symptoms

Those with mental health diagnoses, including mood disorders, or substance use disorders, can face sudden, acute increases in their symptoms. Crisis intervention is instrumental in ensuring immediate safety, introducing coping skills, and establishing connections with ongoing treatment options.

Suicidal Ideation

Individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts can find themselves in a crisis, particularly if they feel compelled to act on these thoughts. Crisis intervention helps the individual identify  specific triggers for these thinking patterns, manage their safety, and provides essential suicide prevention support.

By recognizing these triggers, crisis intervention can offer targeted and timely support, helping individuals navigate the complexities of their mental health during challenging moments.

The SAFER-R Model of Crisis Intervention Therapy

When faced with a crisis, a systematic and empathetic approach is crucial for effective intervention. The SAFER-R model is one such approach which provides a comprehensive framework, addressing biophysical, psychological, and social aspects of individuals in crisis. 

Let’s explore each step to understand how this model guides intervention and fosters recovery.

Stabilize: Meeting Basic Needs

In the initial phase, the focus is on meeting biophysical needs to ensure the individual’s immediate safety and well-being. This involves addressing questions such as: 

This biophysical foundation lays the groundwork for effective communication and sets the stage for the subsequent phases.

Acknowledge the Crisis: Reviewing the Event and Reaction

This phase involves implementing psychological first-aid by acknowledging the emotional impact of the critical incident. By reviewing the event and its emotional aftermath, the intervention aims to provide immediate support for the individual’s psychological well-being.

Facilitate Understanding: Normalizing the Situation

Moving further into the psychological domain, the focus shifts to cognitive elements essential for normalization. Facilitating understanding involves helping the individual grasp the situation’s context and reassuring them. This phase aims to bring a sense of normalcy, fostering cognitive resilience in the face of the crisis.

Encourage Effective Coping: Mechanisms and Support

This phase explores the individual’s coping mechanisms and styles. Understanding how they typically cope with stress becomes integral. 

Additionally, therapists will discuss the biophysical and social support elements of the situation with their client, guiding the individual on self-care practices and assessing the availability of social support to aid in the coping process.

Recovery or Referral: Access to Continued Care

In the final phase, the focus turns to post-crisis care. 

The interventionist exercises judgment to ensure the individual is on a path to effective recovery. A thorough review of biophysical, psychological, and social parameters determines whether the individual requires additional evaluation or care from mental health professionals. 

If needed, a referral is suggested to facilitate continued support and recovery.

When to Meet With a Crisis Counselor

Recognizing when an individual may benefit from the expertise of a crisis counselor is crucial. The signs indicating this need can manifest in various ways:

Recognizing these warning signs empowers individuals and their support networks to proactively seek the guidance of a crisis counselor. Timely intervention can make a substantial difference in navigating challenging circumstances and promoting mental well-being.


  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) is a structured approach that was developed at Cornell University to help children in crisis situations, typically in residential care. It does so by providing a framework for understanding, managing, and preventing escalating behaviors. It emphasizes building a therapeutic relationship, maintaining a safe environment, and using the crisis as an opportunity for growth and learning. TCI is often applied in settings such as mental health facilities, schools, and residential programs to support young people experiencing emotional or behavioral crises.

  • The primary goal of crisis intervention therapy is to deliver immediate and targeted support to individuals grappling with acute psychological distress or crisis scenarios. It focuses on stabilizing the individual, mitigating emotional turmoil, and fostering effective coping mechanisms. Crisis intervention therapy operates on a foundation of short-term, goal-oriented interventions, precisely addressing the immediate crisis to hinder further escalation. Furthermore, the approach encompasses safety assessments, promotion of emotional regulation, and facilitation of connections with appropriate resources for sustained support. Crisis intervention serves various purposes with a commitment to: •Reduce Intensity of Reactions: Minimize the emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral reactions to the crisis, restoring a sense of equilibrium. •Restore Functioning Levels: Assist individuals in returning to their pre-crisis level of functioning, fostering recovery. •Enhance Coping Skills: Elevate functioning beyond pre-crisis levels by developing new coping skills and eliminating ineffective strategies like withdrawal, isolation, or substance abuse. •Prepare for Future Challenges: Equip individuals to cope more effectively with future difficulties, enhancing their resilience and problem-solving abilities. The overarching aim of crisis intervention is to guide individuals through recovery, addressing the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) "gives parents/carers the knowledge, practical skills and confidence to help their children in times of emotional distress through crisis prevention and de-escalation." Crisis counseling, a broader term, focuses on providing immediate emotional support and resources in various contexts, including community mental health centers or crisis hotlines. The key difference lies in the specificity of TCI's application and its emphasis on ongoing development.

  • If you or someone you care about is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is crucial to reach out for assistance. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or utilize the available resources. For immediate assistance, dial 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency room. Your safety and well-being are of utmost importance.

About the author
isbell oliva garcia grow therapy Isbell Oliva-Garcia

Isbell Oliva-Garcia is a licensed mental health counselor who is bilingual in English and Spanish. Isbell specializes in treating individuals with depression, anxiety, and issues during difficult life transitions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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