Emotional CPR: A Better Approach to Responding to People in Distress or Crisis

“Safety can mean control.  But internal safety is liberating and necessary for healing.”  What a gem of a statement, and most any person who has trodden a path to reclaim a meaningful life after having experienced a mental health emergency can understand this. This was stated by Leah Harris, Director of the National Coalition for Mental health Recovery and one of the trainers of the Emotional CPR class held last week in Raleigh.  This class was sponsored by the Division of Mental Health and class participants were peer specialists–members of ACT  teams, supported employment teams, and IN-reach specialists–all of whom are working hard to implement the recovery-oriented services and transition processes called for by the settlement between North Carolina and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Emotional CPR was developed bout six years ago by the National Coalition on Mental Health Recovery.  The developers are themselves people who have experienced how communities and systems react to a person having a personal crisis.  They have recovered from mental health challenges and hope to make the world a better, safer place for people having such difficulties.  As trainer Oryx Cohen from the National Empowerment Center said, “We are trying to reform how we respond to people in crisis.”  It’s about time someone is!

Emotional CPR is trauma-informed and promotes true, trust-based connection between individuals.  It empowers a person in distress or crisis as he shares his/her circumstances in this safe dialogue.  It helps, through dialogue, to move a person to a place of hopefulness and focus where he or she can develop a solution–no matter how small–that turns the crisis into a step in a forward-moving direction.

What probably excites me the most about E-CPR is that it is a strong tool for impacting the thought and practice culture regarding response to people needing urgent intervention.     This is important, because how we interact with and care for a person experiencing extreme moods or other unusual experiences has tremendous consequences.  By focusing on negatives, exerting our authority, and addressing a person’s circumstances based only on present symptoms, we can shut a person down or further frighten him so that he shifts into an altogether different mental reality that keeps him from connecting to others around him.   Conversely, by focusing on creating a real dialogue with the person, we remove fear and promote empowerment and safety so that an individual can again call on his own resilience!   How natural is that?  This is what Emotional CPR is all about.  Helping a person get re-grounded and re-integrated through the process of safe and caring personal dialogue.

The acronym CPR stands for three things:

Connecting:  Based on concepts of mutual support, connecting means becoming completely present, listening with focused attention, being “in the moment” with the distressed person so that the priority is respectfully engaging him or her, sharing the risk involved and sharing the power in the relationship so that the person feels safe and not intimidated.  Connection is the medium out of which all other parts of the dialogue grow, so it is maintained throughout the dialogue and does not  slip into superficiality.

EmPOWERment:  Empowerment happens when we help a person find his own power and to exercise it in his life, even in the midst of a strong trial!  The experience of an emotional crisis can be a time when a person realizes he or she is actually more capable than he/she’d previously thought.  This realization enables a person to shift from distress and inaction to passion and power!  (This is SO true, and something crisis workers and others should consider and build upon, potentially preventing crises in the future!)  It is through this empowerment process that a person starts seeing how they can navigate of out crisis and back toward stability.  As this happens, a person finds that hope and potential are revitalized.

Revitalization:  During the dialogue, as a person embraces the sense of safety, mutuality, and empowerment from the discussion, this revitalization comes in the form of  re-connection:  with self, with others–moving back into functioning in community.  It is kind of a re-integration of the true person minus all the fear, helplessness, hopelessness that can sometimes fragment us.  During this process, it is as if the person who had once been distressed has an “ah-ha” moment.  You can see hope, promise, and peace in measures that empower him to move toward wellness.

The Division of Mental Health, and especially Ms. Emily Cohen and Ms. Stacy Smith, are to be commended for their forward-thinking arrangement of this training.  The classmates hope to continue their own part of system transformation through dialogue and through our own mutual support!

Before we all parted, trainer and developer Will Hall said, “This is a room full of people who have the courage to truly BE with people, often people who are pushed aside by the rest of society.”

We are excited to share that North Carolina actually has two people who are apprenticing to become trainers already.  Chad Cagle and Reid Smithdeal are preparing to be able to offer the training here in our state, too.  These guys both live in the western part of the state and had taken part in a training in Asheville last year.  So hopefully we’ll see Emotional CPR take root in our state, creating better results in people’s lives and minimizing the numbers going to  Emergency Departments.

The twenty-two people who participated all agreed they had never experienced the kind of training this approach called for, and it left us all rejuvenated about why we do what we do.  Because we are all people and life is not always easy–with or without a diagnosis!

 

 

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