What You Need to Know About Crisis Therapy

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What You Need to Know About Crisis Therapy
What You Need to Know About Crisis Therapy

What You Need to Know About Crisis Therapy

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A mental health crisis can occur quickly, especially for those already struggling with trauma, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), or other concerns. While the person might currently be in active treatment, a need for emergency mental health intervention can present itself following a triggering event. Crisis therapy differs from other therapies in the urgency of bringing a person off the brink of a life-threatening, dangerous, or otherwise life-altering scenario quickly to minimize immediate harm.


What Is a Mental Health Crisis?

A mental health crisis is an event that threatens a person’s safety or the safety of others. One of the most common mental health crises is suicidal behavior; however, those in a mental health crisis might engage in other behavior that could result in serious long-term consequences. For example, a person might experience excessive paranoia resulting in them assaulting a police officer they fear is after them. The consequences of such an event can put a person into prison or in a position that threatens their life when the police officer attempts to defend themselves.

A crisis can also occur when a person is no longer taking care of their health to the point of becoming life-threatening. Perhaps a person feels such great anxiety that they lose their appetite and stop eating. When this behavior occurs for several days, the person’s physical health is in grave danger, and they might need immediate medical intervention to prevent them from starving to death.


Assessing a Crisis

Assessing when a crisis occurs is crucial to finding the proper intervention. Due to stigma and misconceptions regarding mental health concerns, sometimes any type of mental health symptom may cause alarm by others, resulting in traumatic experiences from emergency intervention when no emergency is present. 

An example of this event that might create an overreaction in others could be a person with BPD engaging in superficial self-injurious behaviors (SIB), like scratching their arms with their fingernails. While SIBs are alarming to those witnessing and the underlying causes need to be addressed, minor cuts and scratches that are not life-threatening are not necessarily indications that a person is in immediate harm of escalating their behaviors. However, if this person moves on to using a knife and cutting deeper or talks about suicide, a crisis may unfold.


Signs of Crisis

Often the most telling signs of a crisis are when behaviors appear sudden and continue to escalate, accompanied by threats of suicide or harming others. When a person has a mental health diagnosis and is currently working with a therapist, they might enter a crisis due to a significant life change and existing coping skills no longer working. Crisis therapy is meant to stabilize the person quickly and manage the immediate concern and life-threatening behaviors to help the person get back on track to continuing therapy. In other cases, a person might experience a crisis that leads to a diagnosis or long-term treatment, such as a person experiencing hallucinations for the first time leading to a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Some signs of a mental health crisis include:

  • Psychotic episode resulting in a “break” from reality could be in the form of:
  1. Hallucinations: Sensations that are not real, such as seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  2. Delusions: Beliefs that are not grounded in reality, like believing that they are a completely different person or government officials are out to get them.
  • Suicidal Threats or Ideations:
  1. Any talk of having recurring thoughts of suicide or making threats can be considered serious, requiring an intervention.
  2. Where suicidal ideation might be a symptom of depression when thoughts of suicide are overwhelming and causing severe distress, the person’s depression might be reaching a crisis level.
  • Dangerous consumption of drugs and alcohol:
  1. The use of substances as self-medication can escalate any situation.
  2. A person might be using a potentially lethal amount of substances when in a crisis, either intentionally or unknowingly putting their life at risk.
  • Threats to harm others or engage in other risky behaviors:
  1. While undergoing a mental health crisis, a person might feel vulnerable and trapped, causing them to feel irritable and aggressive.
  2. They might make rash decisions, engaging in behaviors that place others at risk, such as driving recklessly or threatening to harm others.
  3. Some risky behaviors might not threaten a person’s life; however, they could create severe long-term legal consequences.


Getting the Person Safe

Crisis therapy aims to get a person to a place and feeling of safety, minimizing the immediate threat. This type of therapy is short-term, meant to keep the person or others from further harm, making dangerous decisions, or having a mental breakdown, which can further escalate the crisis. Once the immediate concern is neutralized, crisis therapy can help to prevent a person from experiencing a crisis in the future, teaching alternative action plans for safely managing symptoms of mental health issues.

Providing a person with resources such as the NAMI San Diego Warm Line or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) can help get professionals involved at an appropriate stage to determine the level of care needed to stay out of a crisis. 

Follow-up care after a crisis is crucial to helping a person find healthy coping mechanisms to manage mental health concerns. They might need the support of those around them to intervene when warning signs of another crisis appear or help them navigate their mental health to prevent further crises. By addressing these concerns in treatment, they can learn to live a happy and healthy life, armed with the skills needed to thrive and move forward when things feel hopeless.


Crisis therapy is short-term care to help individuals get to the point of safety during a mental health crisis and learn coping skills to replace maladaptive strategies. A mental health crisis can be any time when a person’s mental health symptoms result in life-threatening behaviors, either to the self or others. The person might also feel impulsive and engage in dangerous behaviors resulting in long-term consequences. Crisis therapy helps a person stabilize and get out of immediate danger. However, following a crisis, follow-up care with a mental health professional can help a person learn coping skills to address the underlying issues leading up to the crisis. Achieve Medical Center provides compassionate, comprehensive mental health services to children, adolescents, and adults in Oregon, California, and Alaska. We aim to help you find the skills needed not only to avert potential crises but to live a fulfilling and happy life. If you or a loved one are seeking help following a mental health crisis, call us today at (619) 375-3977.