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What Does a Crisis Counselor Do?

Updated on February 19, 2015

An introduction to crisis counselors

Crisis counselors are often the first point of contact for helping people to deal with very difficult circumstances. They can assist with the emotional needs that arise from threats of violence, witnessing distressing events, dealing with loss or as the result of a major incident or trauma. In this article we'll explore:

  • The types of situations that crisis counselors deal with
  • How they can help
  • Other areas that they need to be aware of

What situations do crisis counselors assist with?

The types of situations where a crisis counselor can help include:

  • Threats of murder, suicide, violence or other harm
  • Witnessing disturbing events
  • Dealing with personal loss
  • Minimizing the impact of mass trauma

Many crisis counselors will specialize in particular types of situations and will use their interpersonal, professional and other skills to assist in the most beneficial and positive way. They can provide a lifeline of emotional and mental support at the most difficult time of a person's life and help them to deal with profound changes and the impact of an emergency.

We'll explore the most common types of situations where they can help below.

Threats of murder, suicide, violence or other harm

Crisis counselors often have to deal with threats made to individuals or groups of people. This might be harm that a person is threatening to do to themselves, threats from a family member or from another third party.

The priority here is to minimize the threat to individuals and resolve the immediate situation is a safe way. Crisis counselors will often work alongside police and other officials to deal with potentially dangerous individuals.

Examples of situations include:

  • Someone threatening to kill themselves
  • A spouse threatening injury to their partner
  • A person that is mentally or emotionally unbalanced and intends to harm others
  • Other situations that have the potential to become violent or could have bad consequences

Crisis counselors can help to deal with the aftermath of violent or threatening situations
Crisis counselors can help to deal with the aftermath of violent or threatening situations | Source

Witnessing disturbing events

People that have seen disturbing events often need counseling to come to terms with their emotions. A crisis counselor can provide a very useful outlet to allow others to share their grief, distress or anxiety at what they have experienced. Crisis counselors work in this capacity for members of the public and for other professions such as the emergency services or military.

The priority is to look after the emotional and mental health of people impacted by experiencing such events. The military, paramedics, firemen, police, doctors, nurses and other people involved in dealing with emergencies can require counseling to come to terms with their feelings.

Examples might include:

  • People that have witnessed an unexpected death
  • The inability to alter the course of an emergency or stop it from happening
  • Seeing a natural disaster
  • Witnessing loss of life
  • The longer-term impacts of armed conflict

The emotional impact of armed conflict needs to be dealt with
The emotional impact of armed conflict needs to be dealt with | Source
Injury, illness and surgery all need understanding, empathy and support
Injury, illness and surgery all need understanding, empathy and support | Source

Dealing with personal loss

Everyone experiences personal loss and crisis counselors can help others to deal with their loss in a manageable way. Whether it is assisting people that are coping with bereavement, serious injury, emotional distress or other types of loss, crisis counselors can provide support and care at critical times.

The priority here is to support individuals, both with the immediate impact and aftermath of suffering a personal loss and also over the medium to long-term as they adjust and come to terms with things. It often requires extended support as the impact of the loss can last for many years.

Examples might include:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Dealing with a serious, acute or chronic illness
  • The impact of disability or injury
  • Painful relationship breakdowns, divorce and separation
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed and not able to cope

Minimizing the impact of mass trauma

Some crisis counselors specialize in dealing with mass trauma. Whilst the emergency services will often deal with the physical safety, security and recovery of people, crisis counselors can help to protect people emotionally and mentally.

The priority here is to help people to manage the mental and emotional shock, helplessness and feelings of guilt and loss that often occur in these types of situations.

Examples might include:

  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and the like
  • Accidents that result in injury or loss of life such as major vehicle collisions or industrial accidents
  • Emergencies such as fires, flooding and serious weather events
  • Major crimes and terrorist activities
  • Acts of war and military conflict

Mass emergencies have an impact far beyond the physical
Mass emergencies have an impact far beyond the physical | Source

How crisis counselors can help

The care, support, advice and resources that a crisis counselor provides are often dictated by the crisis that they are dealing with. If they are helping someone that has been the victim of a violent threat, their priorities will be to ensure that the person feels safe and to help them rebuild their self-confidence. If they are dealing with a disaster, their responsibilities might include letting people know where and how they can get medical treatment, shelter, water or food.

Because of what they do, crisis counselors often work very closely with the emergency services, medical professionals, social workers and other professions that provide care, expertise and support.

They learn to quickly appraise a situation and understand how people typically react to a crisis (for example: confusion, fear, panic, freezing, anxiety or anger). In these cases, their priority is to provide care and support to make people safe as soon as possible.

Crisis counselors are most often involved at or soon after the initial point of crisis, although in some cases they may continue to provide ongoing support and care. In other cases, they may refer ongoing help to other specialist counselors or professionals.

An example of crisis counselors and preventing teen suicide

Other areas that crisis counselors need to be aware of

In addition to all of the points above, crisis counselors often have to bear the following in mind:

  • They need to minimize any imminent physical danger to themselves or others.
  • They should not put themselves at undue risk or in harm's way to help others.
  • They may need to work in a team with other counselors and professionals to provide support.
  • They sometimes need to take a step back and let other professionals do their jobs.
  • Dealing with crises means that sometimes they will need counseling themselves.
  • Not everyone can be helped

Crisis counselors are an essential part of a support network for victims
Crisis counselors are an essential part of a support network for victims | Source

A short quiz on crisis counselors and what they do

view quiz statistics
We all need a helping hand
We all need a helping hand | Source

In closing

Ultimately, crisis counsellors can be a very powerful force for good in otherwise extremely difficult circumstances. They can provide the pastoral care and practical support to help people deal with often overwhelming emotions and circumstances in a safe way.


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    • Paul Maplesden profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Maplesden 

      4 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I agree - It's a tricky and difficult career - Thanks for the comment!

    • CrisSp profile image


      4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Tough job indeed and respect they all deserve.

      Good, informative hub!


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