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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1995 Issue #34 

by: Allen Cardoza, Owner
West Shield Adolescent Services

Every verbal intervention, like every crisis situation, is unique. However, there are components of each situation that are similar to the point that we can map out a general strategy. 

The three major components of verbal intervention: 

1.) Goals - what results are you looking for? 

2.) Strategies - what is your plan? 

3.) Techniques - the tools you work with. 

It is critical to remember all three components must be present for your verbal intervention to be effective. 

Every verbal intervention should have three goals: 

The first stage goal should be safety, and stopping the immediate behavior that is unsafe or unacceptable. An example of this would be an adolescent who is about to physically hurt himself or herself, or another person. 

The second stage goal is information gathering, where you learn how the adolescent is reacting to you, and the adolescent learns what the positive and negative consequences will be for exhibiting a behavior. 

The third stage goal is responsibility. The adolescent should understand that they are ultimately responsible for his or her own behavior. 

The second component of a verbal intervention is your strategy. 

Your strategy should be chosen based on the knowledge you have of the adolescent gained prior to the intervention, and your assessment of the situation at that time. 

For example, if you assess that the adolescent lacks structure, then you will need consistency and predictability to develop trust. You can provide consistent structure by setting clear, strong limits and enforcing them the first time they are tested. 

 If you assess that the adolescent is poorly socialized, and does not understand rules or limits, then try teaching and explaining, as they may not understand what an appropriate behavior is. Then start with looser limits. This will open the door to personal bonding much quicker than placing strict limits right from the start. If you assess the adolescent as a manipulator or tester, they may try to gain control by antagonizing or exploiting others. 

You will probably want to try setting limits only in the areas where they are needed to protect the adolescent or others. If you set too many limits with a very manipulative person, you run the risk of them having a variety of areas to test. 

A third component of a verbal intervention is your technique. Although there are hundreds of techniques you can use, concentrate on a few techniques that consistently produce results for you. The same technique that works for one person may not work for another. This is another reason why the preliminary assessment is so important to the success of an intervention or transport of an adolescent. One of the areas that is overlooked quite often in intervention is ego. We must be able to put our own egos aside, yet understanding that the adolescent may not be able to do the same, allowing them to save face, while at the same time not allowing yourself to be taunted into losing your cool. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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