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Crisis Theory By Ivor Browne Crisis Definitions A Crisis may


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Title: Crisis Theory By Ivor Browne Crisis Definitions A Crisis may

Crisis Theory
  • By
  • Ivor Browne

Crisis Definitions
  • A Crisis may be viewed as the transitional period
    presenting an individual with, on the one hand,
    an opportunity for personality growth or
    maturation and, on the other, a risk of adverse
    affect with increased vulnerability to subsequent
  • W Thomas(1909) described Crisis as a threat, a
    challenge, a strain on the intention, a call to
    new action. Yet it need not always be acute or
    extreme. Of course a crisis may be so serious as
    to kill the organism or destroy the group, or it
    may result in failure or deterioration. But
    Crisis is not to be regarded as habitually
    violent. It is simply a disturbance of habit and
    may be no more than an incident, a stimulation, a

Crisis Definitions
  • Erikson(1965) Viewed personality development as
    a succession of differentiated phases, each
    qualitatively different from its predecessor.
    Between one phase and the next are periods
    characterised by cognitive and affective upset.
  • Gerald Caplan Refers to Crisis as an upset in
    the steady state A crisis is provoked when an
    individual, faced with an obstacle to important
    life goals, finds that it is for the time being
    insurmountable through the utilisation of
    customary methods of problem solving

Accidental Crises
  • Traumatic events which might or might not happen
    at a given time. These could either be major
    catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, etc.,
    which could affect a whole section of society.
    Or individual crises like a child losing its
    mother at an early age, even the loss of a job or
    a broken relationship, or any other sudden tragic

Developmental Crises
  • Erikson calls these developmental crises as
    distinct from accidental crises associated with
    various life hazards
  • Events such as birth, which is a crisis both for
    the mother and the infant, the onset of puberty
    and adolescence, marriage, the menopause, and so
    on as we progress through the biological stages
    of life. These differ from accidental crisis
    in that they necessarily occur at a given point
    in development and everyone has to pass through

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Socio-cultural Crises
  • These are situations like facing the first day at
    school, the Leaving Certificate, or marriage.
  • Such situations are not part of our biological
    development, yet, we have structured our society
    so that, unless these hurdles are overcome, our
    future is severely curtailed.
  • Thus we have institutionalised certain forms of
    crisis that, unless successfully dealt with, can
    have very deleterious effects.
  • .

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A Turning Point
  • . A major crisis can often represent a turning
    point in a persons life. It is a hurdle, that
    has to be surmounted if the person is to continue
    on satisfactorily through life. If a crisis can
    be handled successfully then the person will be
    more mature as a result. But if it cannot be
    overcome then some maladaptive pathway is likely
    to develop and this often signals the onset of
    what later becomes a formal mental illness.

Two Main forms of Crisis which require a
different Response
  • - The type of crisis involved in facing an
    examination, tackling a new job, or the struggle
    in late adolescence to leave ones family of
    origin and become independent.
  • - This kind of crisis demands action,, having
    the courage to face the situation and overcome
  • - The other form is one which involves hurt or
    loss, such as the death of someone close to us,
    or to suffer rape or sexual abuse.
  • - In these situations the response required,
    is to feel the pain and work through emotion
    which is appropriate to the situation and in this
    way resolve it

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Awareness of the significance of Life Crises
  • Until I went to the States in 1960 and was
    exposed to these ideas, there was no awareness in
    Ireland or Britain of the significance of life
    crises. People were simply diagnosed as
    suffering from endogenous depression or
    schizophrenia Etc., with no sense of how these
    related to the crises that they had encountered,
    or how these had developed over time.

Significance of Life Crises (cont.)
  • - Now some 40 years later crisis intervention
    is generally accepted. But its relation to
    development of mental illness later is still not
    well understood.
  • - Now, in major catastrophes like an air
    disaster or a terrorist bomb, there is often an
    exaggerated response. Droves of crisis
    counsellors descend on the scene when most people
    are in a state of shock and not in any sense
    ready to deal with the emotional effects of the

Intervention when the Time is Right
  • Later, when the time is right, and they feel safe
    enough to be able to emotionally react, crisis
    intervention can begin and they can be helped to
    integrate the pain and anguish surrounding what
  • Even so psychiatric diagnosis is still treated as
    something unrelated to environmental adaptation,
    or to the developmental history of the person,
    and past crises and traumas are ignored. It is
    as if these so-called illnesses existed outside
    of time, as some kind of rarefied independent

  • The traditional view was that if all the
    influences, genetic and developmental that went
    to form the person entering adolescence, could be
    known, then one could say with certainty how he
    would react. However, because it is never
    possible to know all of these influences fully we
    could not make such deterministic predictions.

  • Over the past 50 years research by Prigogine and
    others has demonstrated unequivocally that even
    if we knew all of the inputs and influences
    playing on an adolescent, we would still not be
    able to say with certainty how the situation
    would evolve.
  • There is a fundamental indeterminacy in any
    complex system because the essential causeof
    how a living system will behave, lies within that
    system itself. Although it is undoubtedly
    influenced by its past history, once it reaches a
    crisis point, no one can say with certainty how
    it will behave.

Phases of a Crisis
  • Phase 1 Initial rise in tension from the impact
    of the stimulus calls forth habitual problem
    solving responses.
  • Phase 2 Lack of success and continuation of
    stimulus is associated with increasing upset and
  • Phase 3Further rise in tension acts as a
    powerful internal stimulus and calls out
    emergency problem solving mechanisms - novel
    methods to attack the problem, trial and error,
    and attempts to define the problem in a new way.

Phases of a crisis (cont.)
  • Phase 4 As tension mounts beyond a further
    threshold, its burden increases to breaking
  • To avoid major disorganisation the person employs
    restitutive methods to reduce anxiety and opens
    up maladaptive pathways.
  • These can lead eventually to the development of
    various psychiatric syndromes.

Crisis Theory
  • By Ivor Browne

Crisis Intervention
  • 1. Family, friends or neighbours may encourage
    adaptive responses, but in other instances may
    reinforce maladaptive responses e.g. in the
    denial of grief.
  • 2. A person may turn for help to front-line
    professionals in the community, i.e. clergy,
    general practitioners, police, public health
    nurses, solicitors, etc.

Intervention (cont.)
  • 3. During a crisis, an individual experiences a
    heightened desire for help, and the signs of
    distress evoke a helping response from those
    around, which seems like a primitive biosocial
  • 4. During a crisis a person is more susceptible
    to influence by others. When the forces are
    teetering in the balance, a relatively minor
    intervention may weigh them down to one side or
    the other.

Crisis Intervention (cont.)
  • 5. Direct Psychiatric intervention, but this is
    rare. Psychiatrists could be more effective by
    working through other professionals. This could
    be an effective use of their time, enabling them
    to reach people closer to the original crisis,
    rather than when illnesses have become fully
    defined and are relatively chronic.
    Unfortunately in the present system this seldom

Outcome of a Life Crisis
  • Will depend on 1) Whether there were similar
    events previously in a persons life history,
    which remained unresolved. e.g. where one is
    faced with the death of a loved one, was there an
    earlier death which was never healed. This is
    why to work through a life crisis is of such key
    importance because, not only will the current
    situation be resolved, but any past traumatic
    events of a similar nature will also be dealt

Crisis outcome (cont.)
  • 2) The culture and family background will
    also effect the outcome of a life crisis. If a
    person comes from a background which tends to
    deny expression of emotion, this will affect
    their capacity to feel the pain necessary to
    resolve the situation.
  • 3) Family advice can be helpful or
    destructive depending on whether it helps a
    person to fully experience what has happened, or
    enables them to deny the emotional implications
    of the crisis.

Crisis - Growth or failure
  • Not a negative phenomenon, it can be just as
    much an opportunity for personality growth and
    development. The outcome of a crisis therefore
    depends on how it is handled and whether the
    person manages to deal with it effectively.
    Indeed, if we did not have to face the stress of
    life crises, we would not develop at all.