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Using Crisis as a Challenge for Personal and Professional Growth

When are people in a state of crisis? People are in a state of a crisis when they face an obstacle to important life goals – an obstacle that is, for a time, insurmountable by the use of customary methods of problem solving. A period of disorganisation ensues, a period of upset, during which many abortive attempts at solution are made (Caplan 1961, p. 18).

How does crisis develop?

Crisis develops in four distinct stages:

  • a critical situation occurs in which a determination is made as to whether a person’s normal coping mechanisms will suffice;
  • increased tension and disorganisation surrounding the event escalate beyond the person’s coping ability;
  • a demand for additional resources (such as counselling) to resolve the event is needed; and
  • referral may be required to resolve major personality disorganisation (Marino, 1995).

What does Applied Crisis Theory encompass?

It encompasses four domains:

  • normal developmental crises;
  • situational crises;
  • existential crises; and
  • environmental crises.

What are Developmental Crises?

Developmental crises are events in the normal flow of human growth and evolvement whereby a dramatic change or shift occurs that produces abnormal responses. For example, developmental crises may occur in response to the birth of a child, graduation from college/university, midlife career change or retirement. Developmental crises are considered normal. However, all persons and all developmental crises are unique to the person and must be assessed and handled in unique ways.

What are Situational Crises?

A situational crisis emerges with the occurrence of uncommon and extraordinary events that an individual has no way of forecasting or controlling. Situational crises may follow such events as automobile accidents, kidnappings, rapes, corporate buyouts and loss of jobs, as well as sudden illness and death. The key to differentiate a situational crisis from other crises is that a situational crisis is random, sudden, shocking, intense and, often, catastrophic.

What are Existential Crises?

An existential crisis includes the inner conflicts and anxieties that accompany important human issues of purpose, responsibility, independence, freedom and commitment. An existential crisis might accompany the realisation, at age 40, that one will never make a significant and distinct impact on a particular profession or organisation or a pervasive and persistent feeling, at age 60, that one’s life is meaningless – that there is a void that can never be fulfilled in a meaningful way.

What are Environmental Crises?Environmental crises” typically occur when some natural or human-caused disaster overtakes a person or a (large or small) group of people who find themselves, through no fault or action of their own, mundated in the aftermath of an event that may adversely affect virtually the entire environment in which they live. Such crises may occur in the form of natural phenomena such as hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, blizzards, mud slides, drought or famine and forest fires. Other instances of environmental crises may be biologically derived such as during an epidemic disease or a huge oil spill; (politically based, as in war or a refugee crisis associated with war or ethnic cleansing (removal) of or destruction of virtually an entire ethnic population of a region); or severe economic depression, as opposed to psychological depression.

The Six-Step Model of Crisis Intervention The Six-Step Model of Crisis Intervention is designed to operate as an integrated problem-solving process. Step One Define and understand the problem. If one happens to be a manager or a therapist, it is important to have a better perspective/comprehension of the problem by asking one’s subordinate or client to define their problem. Furthermore, practising core listening skills such as empathy as well as genuineness and acceptance will enhance one’s competency in this first step of crisis intervention. Step Two Ensure your personal safety. If you are a therapist-counsellor or a manager ensure your client’s/subordinate’s safety which entails minimising the physical and psychological danger to self and others. Step Three Seek support. Therapists – counsellors as well as managers provide support by assuring their clients/members of staff that they really care about them. It is a mistake to assume that they experience feeling valued, prized or cared for. Especially, in the case of a therapist, support entails being able to accept the client(s) in crisis in an unconditional and positive way. Step Four Explore the array of opportunities available to you, to your client/to your subordinate. There are different ways of thinking about alternatives:

  • situational supports which may represent excellent sources of help, are people known to the client in the present or past who might care about what happens to the client;
  • coping mechanisms are actions, behaviours or environmental resources the client might use to help him/her get through the present crisis; and
  • positive and constructive thinking patterns on the part of the client are ways of thinking that might substantially alter the client’s view of the problem and lessen the client’s level of stress and anxiety. It is worth noting that clients experiencing crisis do not need a lot of choices; they need appropriate choices that are realistic for their situation

Step Five Making plans: A plan should:

  • identify additional persons, groups and other referral resources that can be contacted for immediate support; and
  • provide coping mechanisms – something concrete and positive for the client to do now, definite action steps that the client can own and comprehend. It is important that planning be done in collaboration with the parties concerned so that they feel a sense of ownership of the plan.

Step Six Making commitment to the decision taken or receiving commitment from the person/people counselled/empowered will enable the latter to take one or more definite, positive, intentional action steps designed to move them toward restoring pre-crisis equilibrium.

What does personal growth entail?

  • Personal growth entails the continuous efforts to develop all facets of ourselves.
  • Embarking on courses for Self-knowledge and Personal Development will assist us in getting to know: “Who we are”, “Why we function/behave the way we do?”, “Our strengths and our weaknesses” while, simultaneously, encouraging us to work on them so as to become more balanced persons.

Why should we strive for balance?

Most of the weaknesses associated with any given personality type are a result of that type’s dominant function overtaking the personality to the extent that the other functions become slaves to the dominant function. There must be a focus on allowing the other functions to develop in parallel and not just to exist to serve the dominant function. It should be pointed out that one personality function may be more effective than another one, in a given situation, as this assists us to understand the relevance of personal growth to our life.

What is the development of self?

The development of self is always in progress. Rogers said that being fully functioning is “a direction, not a destination”. Furthermore, he emphasised that if striving and growing cease, then the person loses spontaneity, flexibility and openness. Rogers also posited that the fully functioning person is the desired result of psychological development and social evolution.

What are the characteristics of a fully functioning person?

Fully functioning persons exhibit an awareness of all experience. They are open to positive feelings such as courage and tenderness and to negative feelings such as fear and pain. In fact, they are more emotional in the sense that they accept a wider range of positive and negative emotions and feel them more intensely. Fully functioning persons:

  • Live fully and richly in each moment as they participate in experiences and they do not predict or anticipate them.
  • Trust in their own organism. This means that they trust their own reactions after having considered all experiential data and information at hand. They, thus, behave in a way that feels right which is a good guide to behaving in a way that is satisfying.
  • Feel a sense of freedom to make choices without constraints or inhibitions. They are aware of the fact that their future depends on their own actions and is not determined by present circumstances, past events or other people. They do not feel compelled, either by themselves or by others, to behave in only one way.
  • Are creative and live constructively and adaptively as environmental conditions change. Fully functioning persons are flexible and seek new experiences and challenges. They do not require predictability, security or freedom from tension.
  • May face difficulties. The condition involves continually testing, growing, striving and using all of one’s potential, a way of life that brings complexity and challenge. It is worth noting that Carl Rogers did not describe fully functioning persons as happy, blissful or contended, but as people who have a life which is enriching, exciting and meaningful.

Ensuing from the characteristics of a fully functioning person, personal growth during crisis can be achieved by:

  • Thinking positively. A personal crisis that threatens our well-being may hold the opportunity for growth – an opportunity that would otherwise have gone undiscovered.
  • Think differently. Do not nurture the belief that problems only have a negative impact, for they should be seen as opportunities for us to think differently. If we think of inventions, we come to realise that inventions indeed derive from problems and the quest for solutions and, in this way, lead to innovations.
  • The path to personal success. The most important realisation that an individual can make in their quest for personal growth is that there is no single formula that defines the path to personal success. We all have different goals and priorities, which means that different activities and attitudes will make us feel good about ourselves. We also have different natural strengths and weaknesses which are a part of our inherent personality type.

How then, as individuals, can we feel successful in our lives? Self-knowledge is one common goal that will help everyone achieve personal success. So many people are hung up on somebody else’s idea of what it means to be successful, and they are unaware of what is truly important to them. This is completely normal. We all have important role models and influences in our lives who may have basic values that are quite different from our own. If this is the case, it is important to recognise that the discrepancy between what we have been taught is truly important and what we personally believe to be truly important is due to a difference in perspective. If we spend our time and effort trying to meet somebody else’s idea of success, and ignore or belittle any conflicting messages from our inner voice, then we will find ourselves exhausted and unhappy. Realising what is truly important to us is a major step towards achieving personal success.

How can crisis be used for professional growth?

  • Invest in yourself– Some examples
    • Be willing to pursue further studies and to master new skills. The more experience and knowledge you gain, the higher the possibility of getting a promotion and the higher the rate of your employability.
    • If unable to pursue further studies, due to financial difficulties, ensure you keep up with free seminars and presentations that are offered in your vicinity and, at times, on the internet.
    • Also, keep up with what is happening in your particular field by joining special associations and groups and, also, by reading your professional journals and magazines. If unable to purchase, make it a habit to visit your local library and do your reading there.
  • Empower yourself
    • Join Empowerment Groups where you will learn how to empower yourself and to cultivate a positive self-image.
    • The more empowered you are, the more production, satisfaction and pleasure will be ensuing from your activities.

Timely perception of the market trends

Bear in mind that the most important characteristics of a successful professional is the timely perception of the market trends or the fast adjustment to the new data, following and satisfying the clients’ needs as well as looking at new ways of approaching and penetrating the market.

Reduce administrative and production costs If you have your own business or you are a general manager,

it is prudent to:

  • Carry out an in-depth study of your administrative and production costs over the last three years. Compare these with your current costs.
  • Brainstorm yourself and your staff/colleagues/associates as to ways of reducing these costs. Explore alternative methods of reducing costs and maintain and/or improve performance.

Use Employment Agencies in the search of a job

  • Employment agencies usually have a data base of potential employers which they constantly update.
  • Even if there is no vacancy in your field, ask whether you could submit your CV anyway.
  • Employment agencies are keen on satisfying their clients (employers and applicants) as they have a direct financial benefit from both.

Use Social Media

  • Become versed with the social media tools as they provide you with the opportunity to network yourself with other people/professionals and increase the possibilities of your employability.
  • Create your own blog or website – it is possible to do that with a low cost. This will add to your further promotion to the world.

If you are unemployed

  • If you are unemployed, do not lose hope. Keep applying, sooner or later you will secure an interview which will enable you to find employment.
  • Be willing to do voluntary work, for you do have time in your hands.
  • Being a volunteer, reinforces your further personal and professional networking. As well, it may assist you in your job hunting. There have been many occasions where volunteers were, finally, employed by the organisations for which they worked on a voluntary basis because their hard work and professionalism have been appreciated.
  • Becoming a volunteer, especially in a field that you enjoy, enhances your knowledge and your CV.

Cultivate your hobbies

  • Apart from furthering your professional knowledge and skills, ensure you cultivate your hobbies.
  • Whether working or unemployed, your hobbies will help you to maintain your emotional and mental balance. Furthermore, they will enhance your networking efforts as they will introduce you to other individuals or groups.

Be willing to compromise

  • If looking for a job, be positive, flexible and willing to compromise with an offer which responds, even partially, to your expectations.
  • Have in mind that the more experience you gain in different posts, the more valuable an asset you will become for other employment opportunities that may come your way.

Applying for a post

  • When applying for a post, ensure that your CV is written in such a way that it demonstrates your abilities and skills to deal with the duties stated.
  • Include referee’s names and contact details.

Turning your interview into a success

  • Note the details:
    • confirm the date and the time of your interview;
    • find out the title and the name of the person you will have your interview with; and
    • find out the address at which your interview will be held. Ensure that you know the location ahead of time as well as the nearest parking lots, just in case, on the day of your interview, there are no parking spaces available at the place where your interview will be held.

Dress for success:

  • Get prepared to wear formal clothes which should be clean and appropriate for the professional milieu which you will soon enter for your interview.
  • Look after your hair.
  • Ensure that your shoes are clean and polished.
  • Wear a watch and be conservative with your jewellery wear.

Prepare at home:

  • Conduct the necessary research on the company and on the position in which you are interested.
  • Look up the website of the company and study it in detail.
  • Prepare the questions which you would like to ask your interviewer with regards to the philosophy of the company, the various aspects of the position for which you have applied as well as the demands of the company from its employees.

Prepare your answers:

  • Place yourself at an advantageous position by going to your interview well-prepared and confident for the answers that you will be called to give during your interview.
  • Prepare for possible questions.
  • Evaluate your strong points. Prepare a list of your strong points by category. Knowledge and skills based on your education and experience.
  • Communication skills as well as any other skills which you have acquired from your different posts as well as your personal characteristics.
  • Examine your weaknesses. Construct a list with the areas in which you require improvement. Practise your replies with regards to those areas, having in mind not to focus on your Achilles’ heel, during the interview. Make an effort to give the impression that you are aware of your weaknesses and that you are handling them.
  • Prepare for the closing of your speech which should briefly include the reasons for which you would like this job and the benefits that the company would reap from you.

Prepare for positive, negative and neutral questions

  • Practise your listening skills so that you can immediately decide if the question you are served is to be answered with an automatic positive or negative reply.
  • Aim at transforming negative and neutral questions into positive examples.

Examples of positive questions

  • Which are your strong points?
  • How can you contribute to the company?
  • Which are your most important successes?

Examples of negative questions

  • Which are your weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a work situation that made you feel ineffective.
  • What did you not like at your previous post?
  • Which is the biggest mistake you have ever made in your career?

Examples of neutral questions

  • Tell me about yourself
  • How do you communicate with managers/colleagues/subordinates?
  • How do you deal with pressure?
  • How do you rank your priorities?

What not to ask

  • Do not ask your interviewer(s) how they got his/their position or what they think about the company.
  • Ask their opinion about the person that previously held the post for which you are currently being interviewed.
  • Ask for the political or religious views, unless the position is relevant to these fields.

    Written by Gabriella Philippou, Psychotherapist-Counsellor, Focusing Experiential Therapist, Trainer, Coach

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