Crisis Counseling and Intervention: How Counselors Provide Immediate Help

What is Crisis Counseling?

According to the American Counseling Association, crisis counseling assists individuals with coping and support after a major crisis. Crisis counseling is brief and time-limited with specific goals for achieving stability, increasing an internal sense of empowerment and safety, and locating appropriate resources. Typically, this type of counseling can range from 15 minutes to 2 hours and is provided throughout 1-3 sessions. While it is not a substitute for long-term therapy or psychiatric care, crisis counseling can provide a safe outlet for immediate relief.

Crisis counselors often utilize psychological first aid, which focuses on reducing acute distress, restoring physical and mental stabilization, and integrates prosocial coping skills. Professionals trained in mental health first aid  assist with identifying and responding to signs of mental illness or substance use (i.e. someone experiencing a panic attack or experiencing suicidal ideation).

Providing mental health first aid is not only limited to medical professionals; anyone with a desire to help can enroll in these courses.

What Crisis Counselors Do:

Helping After Weather Disasters

Crisis counseling can help in natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, or earthquakes. In 2017, for instance, the National Centers for Environmental Information estimated at least 15 major weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding over $1 billion each.

Hurricane Harvey caused 84 deaths and its flooding and damage affected approximately 200,000 homes and businesses. Hurricane Irma caused 95 deaths and significantly damaged up to 65% of buildings in the Florida Keys and U.S Virgin Islands.

Crisis counseling helped provide relief for those suffering from financial burdens, health consequences, and severe emotional distress or grief as a result of these weather disasters.

Addressing Violent Acts

CBS news claims there were more mass shootings than days in 2019. As gun violence continues to surge, the destruction and carnage from these shootings also continue to rise. The aftermath of these mass shootings may be associated with feelings of anger, depression, psychosomatic symptoms, anxiety, depression, and preliminary symptoms of PTSD.

Fortunately, crisis counseling continues to provide a stable anchor for those in the wake of such violence.

Domestic Violence Victim Support

More than 10 million men and women  are abused by their intimate partners each year. Resources, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, provide confidential support, resources and referrals, and safety planning for victims in domestic violent relationships.

Crisis counseling may offer emotional support and resources to help individuals with creating effective safety plans should they choose to leave to their violent relationship.

Suicidal Intervention

Over 100 Americans die by suicide , making it the 10th leading cause of death in the US. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  provides confidential crisis support for people across the US feeling actively suicidal or in severe emotional distress. A crisis counselor will explore the individual’s thoughts and feelings and refer to the appropriate resources if needed, such as calling the paramedics in acute situations.

Assisting Sexual Assault Victims

In America, sexual assault occurs every 73 seconds . Sexual assault can evoke difficult reactions of anger, confusion, depression, or anxiety. Resources such as the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline , provide free and confidential support 24/7. These crisis counselors help with emotional processing and locating appropriate resources and referrals for recovery.


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Where Crisis Counselors Work

Crisis counselors can work in a variety of settings including:

  • Telephone crisis counseling centers
  • Online/live chat crisis counseling forums
  • Mental health clinics
  • Humanitarian aid organizations
  • University counseling centers
  • Nonprofit community centers
  • Private practice

Additionally, crisis counselors can also provide mobile services. In these cases, they directly work onsite near the location of a natural or human-caused disaster. When major disasters occur, many mental health therapists, social workers, and psychologists volunteer their time to provide crisis counseling services.

In the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in October, 2017, several psychologists, marriage and family therapists, psychiatrists, and mental health clinics  offered free support groups and individual crisis counseling for victims and their loved ones. In Nevada, MGM Resorts International organized mobile crisis counseling  directly at one of their hotel properties. These services help victims, families, and other supporters receive appropriate emotional support for the initial feelings of shock, anger, and fear often associated with acute trauma.

A Specific Need for Counselor Self-Care

Counselors risk experiencing secondary trauma or compassion fatigue when working with acute crisis populations. This refers to experiencing the client’s sense of depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms

To prevent secondary trauma or burnout, counselors may wish to consider implementing self-care strategies. This includes taking care of physical health: eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining an appropriate sleep schedule. It also means taking care of one’s own mental health: carving out time for leisure activities, reflection and journaling, spirituality, and spending time with loved ones.

Counselors are also encouraged to reach out to other colleagues, seek appropriate supervision or consultation, and receive their own personal therapy. Always consult your physician or other qualified professionals if you are experiencing mental health issues.

List of Crisis Intervention Resources

Natural Disasters


  • American Psychological Association (APA): Provides tips and resources for managing distress in the aftermath of a shooting. The APA also provides an extensive directory for finding a psychologist.
  • Child Aware of America: Provides infographics for understanding how to best support children who have experienced trauma. This website also provides expansive resources, educational materials and referrals for crisis hotlines.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Provides various resources and educational material related to trauma, grief, and parent guidelines for helping youth after mass violence, bombings, or shootings.

Domestic Violence

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline24/7 free, confidential support for anyone experiencing domestic violence or questioning abuse within their relationship. Call 1-800-799-SAFE. Online chat options are available through their website.
  • Domestic Abuse Shelters: Online directory that provides a 24/7 hotline for support, emergency shelter referrals, and videos and resources related to domestic violence.
  • Domestic Violence Resource Center: Provides information about domestic abuse, warning signs, and tips for helping loved ones in violent relationships.


  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline24/7 free, confidential support for people in emotional distress and/or feeling actively suicidal. Call 1-800-273-8255. Online chat options are also available.
  • National Institute of Mental Health: Provides an overview of the risk factors, signs, and symptoms associated with suicide and discusses various modes of treatment and types of therapy for those who may be struggling.

Sexual Assault

  • RAINN24/7 hotline for sexual assault survivors designed for confidential support and locating appropriate resources and medical and psychiatric referrals. Call 800-656-HOPE.
  • End Rape on CampusProvides services, direct support, and educational materials on rape and sexual assault occurring on college campuses.
  • Help Guide: Provides information regarding the aftermath of rape and sexual trauma, discusses myths and facts about assault, and basic tips for initial healing.

Last updated: April 2020