What exactly is a crisis and how does crisis counselling work

This world is in crisis!


For a moment, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has just received a devastating piece of news: a job termination letter, a suicide note from a close friend, a life-threatening medical diagnosis for a young man, a girl discovering that her boyfriend has been unfaithful, a man who is exhausted by the daily stresses of life, and so on. An everyday crisis is only partially depicted here.

Welcome to the world of crisis. It is everywhere, be it explosion of stars millions of light years away, destruction from wars, deaths due to pandemic, economic recession or natural disasters. Everywhere, we are surrounded by crisis. Crisis is a byproduct of living in a world which is volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, random and unpredictable.

Crisis and psychology.

To deal effectively with crisis, we need to understand how crisis affects us at the psychological level. Crisis has the special ability to bypass our rational thinking. It makes us fearful and impairs decision making, thanks to the over stimulation of amygdala, part of our brain which is responsible for fear. Crisis easily taps into the already available cognitive biases in our mind, making it difficult to give crisis a right perception. When accumulated stress remains unchecked for long time, it just takes a single crisis to unsettle our brain and unleash a whole range of complex emotions, as if waves of emotions are not just waves but a whole tsunami.

Crisis counselling, the only antidote to crisis

Despite the overwhelming effect of crisis on our psyche, crisis has certain weaknesses. It has no order and no structure. This gives us a certain degree of psychological freedom to give it meaning and provide necessary order and structure subjectively. Every crisis is looking for order and meaning, and crisis counselling gives us this opportunity to do it. Crisis counsellors, through counselling, acts like companions in crisis. They help people navigate through whirlpool of emotions, when everything is falling apart, by giving a neutral unbiased and detached view of the whole situation. It just takes compassionate listening and sharing to make people calm and help them deal effectively with crisis.

What it takes to do crisis counselling and Why I do it

As a trained crisis counsellor, I do not know what the next call will be. Will it be of a person who wants to commit suicide by consuming sleeping pills or of a person who just got fired from a job and is having a panic attack? I deal with these uncertainties and unpredictability at my work on daily basis. As if my desk is like an emergency ward of a hospital or a central war control room.

I do crisis counselling to help people find islands of peace, in the ocean of suffering. It is about helping people find order and meaning in their crisis, and making world more resilient. It is about living on edge and yet being mindful and present to face the next call that awaits me. It is about living with satisfaction when people tell you at the end of the crisis counselling- “thank you for listening and understanding me”, making a mental note of gratitude for having been able to support one more person.


Some tips for those on the journey to start Crisis counselling as a career choice

  • Start first from handling a crisis in your own personal life. This will give first-hand experience of how it feels to live through a crisis. Make notes and critically analyze how you responded to your emotions. If not your own, observe crisis around you, in lives of others who share with you. Refrain from offering advice or helping others but pay attention to what their crisis means and how you can support them find solutions.
  • Seek therapy to heal yourself- It is important that you empty your mind to receive the pain of those reaching out to you. In the absence of this, you are bound to be triggered by experiences of others. Therapy does not end here it is required throughout your journey in crisis counseling, you need support to debrief, discuss your feelings, thoughts in a safe space to get back to helping others.
  • Get training from a professional crisis counsellor. This is important. Continuous training and getting regular feedback from a mentor help you to become competent in this field.
  • Basic skills of crisis counselling works wonder! How far you go in the career of crisis counselling depends on how you master these fundamentals.
  • Work on your mental health on daily basis. Try to learn something new daily.
  • Practice more, so as to respond quickly to the client’s crisis. Response time is critical in crisis counseling and this comes from practice.
  • Learn from mistakes to become a better crisis counsellor. Introspection and debrief with mentor helps one understand strengths and areas to improve, never hesitate to do both.


(Divye Kartikey, is a Crisis Counselor at the Vandrevala Foundation.)