How Community Services Workers Handle a Crisis: 7 Key Steps

Updated December 2023

Working with at-risk populations is central to community service work.

CSWs are trained to support people dealing with serious life challenges, which may include addictions, mental health disorders, cases of domestic violence, and other, high-stress situations that sometimes lead to acute crises.

When we experience a crisis, our ability to cope and make decisions is seriously impaired. We need specialized support to regain control and find an effective solution to the problem at hand.

CSWs are trained to provide that support, and stop individuals in crisis from harming themselves or others. No easy task!

Non-violent crisis intervention training typically introduces students to a step-by-step model—a guide they can follow to help others get through traumatic experiences in the safest, most effective way possible.

In this post, we walk current (and prospective) CSW students through the seven-step approach many social workers use.

Step 1: Make a swift risk assessment

The first step of crisis intervention is to determine whether the individual is at immediate risk. The CSW will perform a rapid assessment by inquiring about factors such as:

  • Current drug/alcohol use
  • Whether the individual is taking any medications
  • Whether the individual has already initiated a suicide attempt (for example, taken an overdose of pills)
  • If the individual is planning a suicide attempt, and how detailed those plans are
  • Recent trigger events (a break-up, loss of employment, violent act, or other traumatic experience)

The goal of this first step (typically called a "lethality assessment") is to find out if the individual needs immediate medical attention (to address a suicide in progress), or if there's a strong potential for imminent self-harm.


Step 2: Quickly establish rapport

The CSW can't just bombard an individual in crisis with questions. To get a clear picture of the situation, the community services worker must use artful interviewing techniques and establish trust and rapport with the client.

This stage requires the CSW to show compassion, respect, and acceptance of the individual.

CSW training teaches a wide range of techniques for building rapport, such as maintaining good eye contact, a non-judgmental attitude, and a non-threatening stance.


Step 3: Getting to the root of the problem

What has triggered the crisis? What problem has led the individual to require help at this precise moment? Now that rapport has been established, the CSW will aim to uncover the core issue at work.

However, the goal is not simply to determine a single tipping point, but also to uncover other related events and contributing factors—and get a sense of any patterns in coping style that may have led the individual to crisis.

At this stage, the CSW will look at the broader context, pinpoint the most pressing issues, and prioritize them in terms of which ones should be worked on first.


Step 4: Guiding the "venting" of emotions

Individuals who have experienced trauma typically have a range of volatile, deeply intense emotions that must be released before healing can happen. The CSW guides this "venting" carefully, using techniques like active listening, probing, and paraphrasing.

Eventually, the CSW can begin asking further questions to clarify details, and even gently suggest more effective responses to the crisis.

Once "venting" has taken place, the individual is generally in a better position to consider solutions, and see their situation with greater objectivity.


Step 5: Coming up with next steps

Even after the emotional release of venting, it can be really difficult for a person in crisis to see a positive path forward and know which steps to take toward that path. At this stage, CSWs must help their client explore alternatives, and come up with options together—rather than imposing solutions.

Potential solutions are put on the table, and pros and cons are openly discussed. Examples of next steps may include:

  • Programs and services for treating addiction
  • Temporary housing for victims of abuse
  • Brief hospitalization
  • Committing to ongoing counselling


Step 6: Implementing the action plan

At this point, the CSW and client agree on a concrete plan of action. This might include setting up a support system—mobilizing friends and family, and committing to a series of follow-up calls and visits with the CSW.

Or it could mean enrolling in a program, moving into a shelter, or referring the client to a clinician for treatment.

The focus is on moving forward and creating a sense of futurity and hope for the client.


Step 7: Following up

It's crucial to have a plan for checking in and following up with clients post-crisis. The CSW will be looking to assess how well the individual is coping, whether they're staying on track with treatment programs (or other elements of the action plan), and whether further interventions or referrals are needed.


want to learn more about crisis management or other aspects of community services work?

Consider Herzing's CSW diploma program. It's approximately one year long and includes several weeks of real-world experience with a local community organization.

You'll learn how to support people in need through case studies, group work, mock counselling sessions, and other hands-on techniques.

Click below to learn more about our training, request free information, or chat live with a friendly admissions advisor.

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