Applied Psychology

How to Deal with Crisis and Trauma

Feb 09, 2023 | By Jenna Van schoor
How to Deal with Crisis and Trauma - Global SACAP

We have all experienced difficult times in our lives, especially over the last two years. The pandemic, and the stress and turmoil that it has caused, has certainly affected our wellbeing. But are we equipped with necessary tools to cope with all of the challenges we need to navigate?

In this post, we will cover their definitions and how they are related. We’ll also discuss the effects of traumatic events on mental health, provide some general tools for dealing with crisis and trauma. Lastly, we’ll share the benefits of using a trauma-informed approach.

What is a crisis?

The Oxford Dictionary defines crisis as “a time of intense difficulty or anger”. This means that there is a wide spectrum of events that could constitute a crisis. For example, getting your car stolen could be considered one, as well as being involved in a car accident or natural disaster.

For this reason, counselling for crises can be more acute. It involves dealing with the present situation and addressing immediate individual and other requirements. When getting your car stolen, this could involve phoninga colleague to provide lifts while you sort out the insurance details. In the event of a disaster, the immediate focus could be on dealing with shock and relocating people to a safer place.

What is trauma?

The APA defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, crime, or natural disaster”. As we’ve discussed, crises can vary in magnitude, however, depending on the person, they won’t necessarily result in a traumatic response.

As Dr Gabor Maté says: “Trauma is not what happens outside of you, it’s what happens inside of you”. This means that to be able to counsel and support people in crisis and who have been through traumatic events, we need to recognise how the individual has experienced these and is still experiencing them. Often trauma can be the aftermath of a crisis.

This is especially important as exposure to an intensely stressful event or series of events can affect mental and physical health. In extreme cases, survivors of disasters or those who have experienced intensely stressful events can develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Trauma and mental health

Traumatic events can have devastating psychological and physiological effects. To be able to counsel and support those in need, it’s important to have an understanding of trauma-related psychological disorders.

According to Mental Health Gateway, the most common trauma-related psychological disorders include the following:

  • Acute Stress Disorder (ASD): occurs within a month of a stressful event, and can develop into PTSD if not treated.
  • PTSD: this disorder is characterised by intense psychological distress following an intensely stressful event.
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): is characterised by problems in forming emotional attachments to others as a result of insufficient caregiving or emotional neglect.
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED): similar to RAD, DSED is also the result of insufficient caregiving or emotional neglect but is characterised by patterns of behaviour that involve culturally inappropriate or overly familiar behaviour with strangers. 
  • Adjustment Disorders: an adjustment disorder is characterised by emotional and behavioural responses to a stressful event. This disorder occurs within three months of a stressful event and doesn’t last longer than six months.

As a counsellor, you also need to be aware of developing secondary trauma as a result of clients sharing their experiences with you. According to an article on Psych Central, “What is Secondary Trauma?”, this disorder is a result of indirect exposure to stressful events through listening to them, and can show similar symptoms to PTSD.

Tips for dealing with crisis and trauma

We’ve discussed definitions, disorders and some of the ways that people can be affected by intensely stressful and chaotic events. Seeking therapy and counselling is critical, but even when working with a counsellor or therapist, what can the average person do to cope with this kind of stress on a day-to-day basis?

An article on Very Well Mind outlines some practical suggestions for coping day to day.

12 Tips for dealing with crisis and trauma

  1. Prioritise: in the aftermath of a stressful event, focus on maximising your resources and just getting through the day. 
  2. Find support: this is the time to take people up on their offers to help. Whether this is from a counsellor or mental health professional, or leaning on friends and family.
  3. Lessen your stress response: in a state of overwhelm, it can be beneficial to practice relaxation techniques to help calm your nervous system.
  4. Process your feelings: give yourself space to process your feelings, through writing or talking with a friend or counsellor. 
  5. Focus on self-care: make sure to take care of yourself to make sure your body is functioning at its best. Do things to help comfort yourself to boost resilience.
  6. Acceptance: learning how to accept your painful and overwhelming feelings can help you to emotionally regulate.
  7. Focus on your senses: focusing on what you are seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and hearing can help you to ground into the present moment.
  8. Creative exploration: art therapy is an effective way to relieve symptoms of PTSD. 
  9. Deep breathing: deep breathing can be a form of self-care and a way to help regulate your nervous system.
  10. Routine: establishing a routine can help create a supportive framework for getting through the day.
  11. Focus on what you can control: empower yourself by taking charge of what you can manage in your day-to-day life.
  12. Know when to seek help: knowing when to ask for help takes courage but is critical if you feel like you can no longer cope.

The benefits of a trauma-informed approach

For those looking to deepen their counselling skills, learning more about how to integrate a trauma-informed approach to your counselling practice can help you support those in need, even if this means referring them to someone else.

By definition, this approach incorporates skills that can help you to better understand what your clients are going through. You’ll also be able to set boundaries so that you don’t burn out or experience secondary trauma. 

This approach is beneficial because according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the United States, it can help to improve patient engagement, treatment adherence, and contribute to the health of both the patient and counselling service providers.

Learn more with micro-courses at SACAP Global

At SACAP Global, we offer a variety of short online courses to equip working professionals with the tools they need to thrive, including the following newly released courses: 

These short courses are designed to be accessible to counselling professionals looking to broaden their skill set and incorporate a trauma-informed approach in their practice. What’s more? Stacking these four courses form the equivalent of one of the modules in SACAP’s Bachelor of Applied Social Science Degree.

Get in touch with our team to find out more about these specialised courses.

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