Crisis counseling focuses more on stress-based than emotionally based problems. In contrast to mental health patients, all people can experience a crisis and respond to it traumatically. Therefore, crisis counselors are not responsible for diagnosing mental illnesses or prescribing medications. Rather, they help victims return to their normal lives in the wake of traumatic events.
Another difference between psychiatric counseling and crisis counseling is that crisis counseling is more short-term. It only treats people to the point that they are successfully rebuilding their lives and can independently function. For instance, a crisis counselor who works with newly homeless families will stop working with them once they have settled into a new home and are earning a steady income.
Many crisis counselors focus on comforting children who have just experienced disastrous events. While adults may cope well with a violent or destructive situation, children may be left traumatized because they had little awareness that such a trauma could happen to them. Children who are traumatized feel extremely insecure, so crisis counselors try to assuage their fears and reassure them that they are now safe. Crisis counselors react patiently to these children and discuss their feelings of trauma with them, so children do not feel ashamed or hesitant about those feelings. Crisis counselors also teach children safety strategies they can practice in case the same disaster strikes again. This method greatly helps children regain a much-needed sense of security over their lives.
Also needful of special care are teenagers, who often act out through destructive behaviors after experiencing a stressful situation. To treat them, crisis counselors often hold group discussions between these teenagers and other peers who have experienced similar trauma. These activities keep the teenager from feeling isolated, since peer identification is so important for their age group.
For both age groups, counselors try to reestablish a routine that parallels the child or adolescent’s pre-disaster routine. Counselors also encourage parents to scale back their expectations of a child or teenager’s schoolwork and behavior for a certain period after the disaster, so these young people can fully go through their grieving process.
Many counselors refer the people they treat to mental health professionals. A great deal of crisis victims can experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which requires psychiatric counseling and perhaps even medication. Many children and adults also develop depression and anxiety disorders that need professional treatment. Though crisis counselors cannot professionally diagnose these behaviors, they can check whether their patients are failing to respond to crisis-counseling techniques. Moreover, they immediately arrange for professional mental-health care when children or adults relate destructive thoughts or behavior.
Besides crisis counselors, many other professionals are trained in crisis counseling. These people include police officers, firemen, paramedics, and social workers. These workers act as the front line of crisis counselors for people experiencing disasters, even though they may not practice crisis-counseling full-time. Nonetheless, there are many full-time or part-time crisis counselors who work at hospitals, disaster recovery centers, shelters, community centers, clinics, and churches. Moreover, many educational institutions employ crisis counselors to treat troubled or stressed students.
Very often, crisis-counseling organizations operate a 24-hour hotline that people can call for various emergencies, such as suicide attempts, rape, abuse, drug use, AIDS symptoms, and so forth. While speaking calmly and reassuringly to the respondent, the crisis counselor usually sends a team of counselors to the scene of trauma. Once the team arrives at the scene, they can offer on-the-spot support. They often arrange for the victims to visit their crisis center where they can receive the most consolation and advice. However, other crisis counselors may make regular visits to the victims’ home at their behest. If the situation is physically or mentally harmful but the victims refuse aid, the crisis counselor may contact a social services agency to run interference.
The education of crisis counselors takes many routes. Most full-time crisis counselors have bachelor’s degrees or even master’s degrees, especially in counseling or social work. However, other counselors may have high school diplomas. The former group usually has the required state licensure and longtime counseling experience. Conversely, the latter group often works for the crisis-counseling agency on a volunteer basis. This group often performs telephone counseling jobs at the crisis agency’s hotline.
More seasoned full-time crisis counselors usually make about $40,000 per year, while more inexperienced workers with bachelor’s degrees often make about $30,000 per year. Crisis counselors who work for their state or federal government may receive many benefits, such as retirement plans and paid time off. In addition, many community-center crisis counseling jobs offer similar benefits, though these are often aimed to counselors who have master’s degrees and licensure.
The job stresses of crisis-counseling careers are many. Besides encountering violent or destructive conditions, counselors routinely meet people in extreme anguish. Moreover, many of them work irregular hours since crisis counselors have to be on call 24 hours a day. Nonetheless, most crisis counselors agree that they gain much satisfaction by helping people reclaim their lives after horrific events.