As a former direct care professional, I remember how frustrating it can be during the debriefing process to come to the realization that a crisis situation could possibly have been avoided if I had been more proactive and been better able to manage my own behavior. Sometimes I didn’t have my RADAR tuned in and as a result I failed to pick up on the subtle (and unfortunately sometimes the not-so-subtle) cues people were giving me that their level of anxiety was escalating. Sometimes I didn’t take my time to try to understand the purpose behind a person’s behavior and I just reacted instead, allowing my emotions and my need to control the situation to drive my own behavior. Sometimes my idea of what it looks like and feels like to treat a person with dignity and respect didn’t match the expectations of the person I was serving. Those were unfortunate situations because they represent times that I fell short of my own goal to focus on prevention so I could keep situations safer. Unfortunately, this type of scenario likely plays out all too often across a wide variety of service providers – residential programs; classroom settings; psychiatric units; vocational environments; and, many others.

Focusing on prevention essentially involves being aware of the triggers (crisis cycle, anyone?) that will impact the people we serve. When we are aware of those triggers and people’s ability to deal with the stress the triggers create we afford ourselves opportunities to be proactive. Ask yourself if it is possible to avoid the trigger. Perhaps it is appropriate to give people some additional time to process their feelings so we can minimize how negatively those triggers will impact people. Perhaps we can modify tasks or change environments so the stress is reduced.

One way to focus on prevention is to give folks time to process their feelings, especially regarding frequent triggers. Times of transition are notoriously difficult for people and one of the best and most effective strategies is to alert people to upcoming times of transition so they have more time to mull over what is about to happen and try to reconcile the change in their own minds. Helping people identify their feelings (“this feels overwhelming for you…”) also gives us the opportunity to put concerns to rest (“this feels overwhelming for you, but things will be okay.”).

I often think of methods that have been used in classrooms to modify tasks (another way to focus on prevention). When I was a student in elementary school, when it came to a task like learning addition or subtraction or multiplication, we were given a worksheet filled with problems and told to sit at our desk with pencil in hand and just keep working on each problem until we completed the task. I am overjoyed when the young children in my life excitedly tell me tales of “playing games all afternoon” and the games were actually educational activities that were engaging and non-threatening and filled with lessons. Educators realized that a full sheet of math problems is a stressor for most kids, so let’s present it in a different way.
By continually challenging ourselves and our co-workers to think more proactively and creatively we will all benefit. Let’s work smarter!

Nikki Wince – Mandt Faculty