Crisis Intervention: How De-Escalation Training Can Save Lives

Published: September 22, 2023 | Last Updated: September 22, 2023by Jeremy Pollack

When it comes to conflict resolution, de-escalation training can go a long way toward calming the situation and everyone involved. However, while de-escalation can work in virtually all conflicts, it can actually save lives in the field.

Various industries can benefit from this kind of training, including law enforcement, social work, and educators. Although not all conflicts can be life-or-death situations, the same elements of de-escalation can apply to those incidents where life is at risk.

Specifically, we’re going to discuss how de-escalation training can influence and enhance crisis intervention. When applied correctly, this training can help bring people back from the brink of harming themselves or others. Here’s a breakdown of how these two elements can work together.

Work meeting with people taking notes and working on a laptop

What is Crisis Intervention?

Crisis intervention is a technique of helping someone in crisis avoid devastating or long-term damage as a result of their experiences. A crisis is defined as an overwhelming negative emotional event that can override someone’s ability to think and act clearly.

Examples of these overwhelming events can include divorces, instances of cheating, the discovery of a fatal illness, or the passing of a loved one. However, because everyone responds to stimuli differently, what can trigger a crisis for one person may not have the same effect for another.

Typically, crisis intervention happens on behalf of the affected individual and not always with their consent. However, for someone to step in and intervene in a crisis without the person’s permission, the situation has to be dangerous. Unless the individual is a threat to themselves or others, outsiders may not be able to intervene, at least not completely.

Because of the nature of crisis intervention, the process needs to be handled by a trained professional. Individuals experiencing crisis are more likely to act irrationally, which can trigger violence and destructive episodes. Without the proper training, a specialist could put themselves in danger by involving themselves in the situation.

How De-Escalation Training and Crisis Intervention Go Hand-in-Hand

While crisis intervention specialists may learn de-escalation techniques, not all de-escalation trainees are equipped to handle crises. That said, there are some overlapping strategies and tactics, so let’s break them down.

Active Communication

The only way you can properly intervene in a crisis situation is to know what’s going on and how it’s affecting the person. So, active communication is a crucial component of figuring out the best course of action.

Active communication involves more than just listening. It also requires participation in the conversation. Some ways to show that you’re actively listening can include:

  • Summarizing the other person’s words
  • Repeating what they’re saying
  • Offering insight into what they’re experiencing

Overall, the goal is to show that you understand what they’re saying and that it matters to you. Active listening is crucial because it helps the individual feel like they’re being heard and that their thoughts and emotions matter.

Calming the Situation

De-escalation and crisis intervention are all about stabilizing the situation so it’s possible to move forward in a positive direction. As long as the crisis or conflict is still happening, it’s impossible to do anything about resolving it.

The exact circumstances of what it takes to calm the situation can vary from one scenario to the next. In some cases, simply talking through the problem can be enough to de-escalate it. In other cases, individuals may need to be restrained so they can’t harm themselves or others.

The words you use also have to be calming and reassuring. Even your tone of voice can affect the situation. Also, it’s imperative to understand that what works for one incident may not work for another.

For example, speaking a low, calm voice may work for someone who’s experiencing a crisis to let them know you’re a trained professional. Conversely, though, the same tone could be seen as condescending during a conflict, creating more tension between you and the affected individuals.

Providing Applicable Solutions

While de-escalation is the primary goal in each situation, it’s also imperative to discuss future options (both short and long-term). Once the person (or people) are ready to discuss these options, it’s your job to provide real-world solutions. Otherwise, the individual may fall right back into old habits or conflicts.

With crisis intervention, the need for immediate solutions is often more severe than it is for standard conflict resolution. For example, a person in crisis may need a safe place to stay for the night. Once that’s handled, they can start thinking about the next day and beyond.

People meeting in a desk inside a library

How De-Escalation Training Can Save Lives

Depending on the industry and the scenario, de-escalation techniques can make the difference between life and death. Here’s a breakdown of the various situations where these strategies can help with crisis intervention.

For Law Enforcement

Unfortunately, there’s a tendency for law enforcement officers to bring physical violence into each situation. Whether it’s using lethal force or restraining an individual, violence only escalates the problem and can lead to fatal encounters.

De-escalation for law enforcement takes a much different approach to these encounters. For example, rather than reaching for a gun, an officer can start talking to the individual and show that they’re there to help, not to harass or harm.

In many cases, simply stating that the officer is there to de-escalate the situation can go a long way. Many individuals can freak out or get more stressed when they see police officers show up. There’s a tendency to assume that they’ll get arrested or thrown in jail, making the situation far worse. For someone experiencing a crisis, the stress of those thoughts could make an overwhelming event even more intense, and it’s hard to know what they would do next.

Fortunately, in areas where de-escalation is being used as the default type of interaction, law enforcement agencies have seen significant reductions in violent interactions. For example, in Kentucky, officers had 28 percent fewer use-in-force incidents and 36 percent fewer officer injuries.

For Social Workers

Social workers provide a vital service to citizens who are already struggling, so they are far more likely to be involved in a crisis intervention scenario. Thankfully, the presence of a social worker doesn’t immediately escalate the situation, so these individuals don’t have to worry as much about being involved in an altercation.

That said, someone in a crisis can still do some real harm, so it’s imperative for a social worker to have comprehensive de-escalation and conflict resolution training. They may encounter individuals who may be contemplating self-harm or those who might want to harm others they perceive as causing the crisis (i.e., a cheating spouse).

Another reason why de-escalation is so critical is that children are often involved in social work cases. Having kids present can create stressful challenges, so it’s imperative to calm the situation as quickly as possible and work toward a positive and peaceful resolution.

The other advantage that social workers have is that they can communicate with individuals more than once. While a police officer may only interact with someone one time, a social worker will likely do so multiple times. That said, because social workers are often overstretched and overworked, it’s hard to follow up with someone as much as they may need to resolve their crisis.

For Educators

Teachers and education faculty have to deal with more problems and challenges today than in years past. The rise of school violence and shootings has made it more crucial than ever for educators to learn de-escalation techniques.

However, this kind of training isn’t necessary across the industry. Some schools have far fewer incidents than others, so teachers don’t have to worry as much about violent encounters.

Still, in areas where students are more likely to act out violently, conflict resolution training can go a long way. Teachers need to know how to approach a student experiencing a crisis and settle them down before things escalate.

Also, this kind of training can help teachers identify students who may be involved in a situation but aren’t acting out. By knowing the warning signs and being proactive, teachers can potentially prevent a violent or life-threatening incident in the future.

Training course where the trainees are seated at a desk and the trainer is writing on the whiteboard

Let Pollack Peacebuilding Help With Your De-Escalation Needs

Although crisis intervention and de-escalation training are two different things, they’re both sides of the same coin. At PPS, we can help your team learn the most valuable de-escalation techniques so they can respond to conflicts and help resolve them quickly.

We also offer comprehensive training programs for workers in high-risk industries. While we don’t train crisis intervention specifically, we can discuss situations where de-escalation can potentially save lives. By having these kinds of discussions, we can prepare trainees for what they may encounter in the field.

If you’re ready to see how well de-escalation strategies can work for you and your team, contact us today.

Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.