What Crisis Counselors Wish You Knew

John F. Kennedy famously stated that the Chinese word for “crisis” is written as two characters, meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” While this isn’t actually true, the idea has resonated because there’s truth to the larger point that Kennedy was making: that a moment of crisis can be seen as both terrifying and renewing. “Time to panic” can, with some work, be effectively reframed as “time to grow.”

Organizations like Crisis Text Line can be summarized along the same construct: they take people from a “hot moment” (“time to panic”) to an empowered “cool calm” (“time to grow”).

As the free, 24/7 text-based service for people in crisis, Crisis Text Line is often one of the first places people turn when they’re experiencing a major life transition, whether that’s a first breakup, moving away for college, or losing a parent.

The crises texters face can feel devastating, like their entire world is crashing around them. A Crisis Counselor’s role isn’t to “solve the problem” (a broken relationship can’t be mended remotely via text, for example), but instead, the counselor will empower the texter to find their own strengths and identify the skills that will bring them out of that moment. Ultimately, they want the texter to get to a place where they don’t have to text the hotline, and eventually, to one where they’ll be able to move through a difficult moment on their own. When the next transitional crisis comes, they’ll say, “I’ve got this.”

This is no small feat however: it’s all too easy to forget your own strength in a time of crisis. To hold onto that “time to grow” idea is an incredible skill that has benefits reaching beyond times of crisis and into our everyday lives. Applying crisis counseling principles to the way we interact with our own crises could help make this reframing happen.

One such principle is strength identification. An effective Crisis Counselor is adept at finding unique strengths in the texter. Sometimes that’s their self-awareness, other times it’s their thoughtfulness, and often, it’s simply the bravery they showed in reaching out for help.

Strength IDs have proven to be a powerful technique. They work because they’re sincere — they are based on what the texter has shared about themselves in the conversation. Sometimes they’re all the texter needs to remember that, yes, they have what it takes to get through this.

While you may not always have someone around during a crisis who can help you identify your strengths, taking the time to do so, either on your own or with loved ones, will prepare you with important reminders when you are facing a crisis.

Another technique, validation, is based on the idea that all emotions are inherently valid; no one ever needs to be ashamed of what they feel. A feeling can’t be “good” or “bad,” it simply is. Often, we don’t allow ourselves the kindness of experiencing our own emotions without self-judgment.

It may sound too simple to be true, but affording yourself some kindness just might be the secret to getting the most growth out of a crisis.

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