Chances are if you are a mental health professional you have had an emergency situation with a client. You may have had a suicidal client or a client intent on hurting them self or others. You have experienced a situation where something traumatic occurred, and you are the first response team. In these events, it is important to remain calm and keep a level head. The guidelines below will help you while dealing with a client in an emergency situation.

Remain Calm, Do Not Panic

As a new professional, it is common to encounter new and challenging situations. Some of these situations will be difficult, and even frightening. The most important thing to remember is to keep calm. If you begin to panic, your client will notice and will panic as well. Take a deep breath, and begin to think as rationally as possible. Think about your training; what your supervisor or your professors from school would do if in your place. Remember, you are the professional; your client is there to be helped by you. If you fall apart, your client may loose respect for you, or worse, carry out a destructive act.

Every time I begin a session I give myself a few minutes to collect my thoughts and relax. This helps me remove the thoughts and feelings I had during previous sessions. During this period, I calm myself and think about ways I can help my current client. Going into a session calm and focused will help if an emergency situation arises.

Take Charge

If there is an emergency situation, deal with it right away. If you are alone, and there are no other professionals around, then you have no choice but to deal with the situation at hand. Of course, if you feel your life is in danger, or your client’s life is in danger, call the police. Do not worry about rapport with the client in this case. If you feel you are in danger, get professional assistance to you as soon as possible. If your client later is upset over this action, explain why it was needed. If a client threatens to harm you or attacks you, you do not need them as a client.

If something has occurred that is an emergency, but not a threat to you, also take charge. Your client needs to know you are there and you will handle it. If a client is suicidal, do what is in the best interests of the client. If by the end of the session you feel the client is still suicidal, do not be afraid to send them to the hospital for an evaluation. Explain how their life is important to you, and that you will do what you can to make sure they do not kill themselves.

Clients in this state need to know someone cares. You may be the last person in their world; and if you do not care, they will know. If you are treating a client you care little for, then you may need to refer them to another professional, as these feelings will often come out. Just the act of caring may be enough to help them through their crisis.

Be Real

For me, it is important to be a real person while interacting with your client. I am the same person sitting with my client as I am at home. I may act more professional, and be much more observant, but I am the same person. I am not playing a game. Long term clients will notice if you are faking them, and most likely will not be long term clients. In an emergency situation, it is important to be yourself. I am not afraid to express my feelings while in a session. I have told clients in emergency situations I was scared, angry, and afraid I might not be able to help. I told them I might be afraid, but I will work with them to get through the emergency and will be there afterward. If you are asking clients how they feel, it is fair to give them the truth as to how you feel.

If a client sees you are a real person, they will relate to it. You may be the professional, but you are also human. As a professional, I am no better a person than my client. I am just at a different place then my client. I am a part of a team, and all members of the team need to work and grow. Most clients who see you as a real person will listen and learn from you.

Formulate a Plan, but Prepare to Change It

It is a good idea to go over a plan for specific events. However, any plan you make you must be willing to change it depending on your client and your situation. The key to becoming a good therapist is the ability to change and adapt. Use all resources at your disposal. If your client is experiencing an emergency, and the family is present, include them as part of your therapy. Even though your client is there for an Individual Session, use everything you can to resolve the emergency. Plans are great, but no plan can cover all possibilities.

Do Not Beat Yourself Up

You cannot solve all problems. There will most likely be a time when you cannot help someone. This may end badly for your client. In the end, if you did the best job possible, then you did all you could do. Ask yourself as you are treating clients if there are ways to improve your treatment. Research and experiment. If you find you are not getting through to your client, change what you are doing. If this fails, refer them to another professional. Your job is not to solve all problems, but to do the best you can do for your client. There will be times you cannot help your client and will need to send them elsewhere. By doing this, you are putting your client’s needs above yours and are doing the best you can for your client.

Learn From All Outcomes

No matter how the emergency ends, learn from it. If things end badly, analyze why they ended badly. If the situation ended well, remember what you did so you can repeat it in the future. Life is a series of learning experiences. Some will not go well, and others will. Many people learn more from failure than from success. In this, there is something to be gained in failure. The more you learn, the better therapist you will be for your clients.


Photo Credit: Caldeira


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Nathan Driskell

Hello, my name is Nathan Driskell and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the Houston / Cypress area specializing in the treatment of Internet Addiction & Asperger’s / Autism. I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples & families.

You can reach me at my website or call me directly at 832-559-3520 if you have any questions. Thank You!
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