“What will I do now? Where will I go? How do I survive?” At any time, a client may walk into your office sharing a crisis situation that creates even more stress and anxiety in response to the unknown. Whether it be stressors of eviction, homelessness, loss of employment, disability, or financial strain, it can make it that much more difficult for a client to continue their therapeutic work around self-esteem, coping, or relationship development due to fear. Fear of where they will sleep, fear of when they will eat, fear of what they will do to support their family, fear of not being able to find a job. As therapists, it becomes even more important to meet our clients where they are in a situation like this, not asking too much of them as they navigate their basic needs. Needs for shelter, food and water, needs for safety and security. According to Abraham Maslow when introducing his hierarchy of needs, only then, when these basic needs are achieved and maintained, can a person advance to the next level of work on relationships, self-esteem, and creativity or purpose.
Hierarchy as a Roadmap to Change
Maslow first introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs in studying extraordinary individuals in a quest to understand their happiness and ways of life. His concepts have since been applied in medical and mental health spheres to better support patients and clients as they navigate through difficulty and a variety of stressors. It is helpful to look at the healing journey through the lens of a hierarchy of needs to best support a client with treatment planning as well as identifying valuable resources to support growth and stability.
Access to Resources
Depending on their needs, knowing where to find valuable resources can be an immense help in supporting our clients through crisis. In Colorado, we can access resources through a variety of databases that allow searches for food banks, clothing, shelter, free legal services, and more. Colorado 2-1-1 and Metro Crisis Services both offer a “service finder,” accessing up-to-date resources throughout the state. The Community Assessment and Coordination of Safety (CACS) is a web tool for professional helpers that allows one to search for mental health and substance referrals including providers, self-help, and community support groups by level of need, city, region, and age. One final resource in Colorado that could be beneficial is offered by Mean Street Ministry, a 16-page resource guide with locations, hours, and type of service offered throughout Colorado that can be meaningful for client exploration and self-advocacy.
Awareness and Advocacy
In addition to being aware of appropriate resources, it is important to be aware of client limits in taking in new information during a crisis. For many providers, it is expected that we slow down our goal progression, maybe even put a topic or intervention on hold in order to support the client with the here and now, the need for stabilization. By remaining present with the client in the current moment, we can still serve them by identifying next steps and possibly advocating for their needs in connecting them to a variety of support services. Whether its providing them with a list of resources or connecting them to the most appropriate referral, our response to their needs in crisis can support them in personal advocacy and growth with an opportunity to gain control and practice coping skills to manage the existing stressors.
How We Can Help
For many clients, our ability to hold space for their fear, anxiety, and grief is healing in and of itself. Recognizing the immense stress crisis and unanticipated change can have on our clients, acknowledging their fears, and conveying they are not alone can be powerful catalysts for change. Helping to stabilize the crisis is necessary before other therapeutic goals and work can progress. In light of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many therapists are signing up to support those most in need and devastated by crisis, by volunteering their time to offer caring, compassion, and space to grieve and heal. There are several ways to help those in need. For more information on how to support our communities impacted by natural disaster, please visit www.redcross.org.