VISTAS Online - American Counseling Association .VISTAS Online is an innovative publication produced
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VISTAS Online is an innovative publication produced for the American Counseling Association by Dr. Garry R. Walz and Dr. Jeanne C. Bleuer of Counseling Outfitters, LLC. Its purpose is to provide a means of capturing the ideas, information and experiences generated by the annual ACA Conference and selected ACA Division Conferences. Papers on a program or practice that has been validated through research or experience may also be submitted. This digital collection of peer-reviewed articles is authored by counselors, for counselors. VISTAS Online contains the full text of over 500 proprietary counseling articles published from 2004 to present.
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Life Space Crisis Intervention:New Tools for Staff and Troubled Youth During Troubled Times
Traditional educational treatment paradigmsframe problems as pathology or deviance and relyheavily on coercion, punishment, and exclusion. Thesereactive strategies are challenged and contrasted withLife Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI), whichcapitalizes on problems as opportunities for learningand growth. LSCI provides staff with specificcompetencies for successfully managing crisis withstudents showing common patterns of self-defeatingbehaviors.
The pattern is familiar. A young person hasincreased conflicts with family, school, or in thecommunity. Adults in his or her life space are unawareof the nature of the youths inner turmoil and becomefrustrated by chronic, escalating, troublesome behavior.Punishment or exclusion only drives these youth furtherfrom the social bond, and makes them resistant totraditional counseling strategies. Increasingly cut offfrom supportive mentors and prosocial peers, the youngperson gravitates to other alienated youths who share ahatred of adult authority and institutions. These youthsmay retreat in lonely isolation or explode in violentacts, evoking further rejection and punishment. Manyprofessionals and agencies may see them, but they areknown by none. The children and youth being sent topsychotherapists arrive with multiple problems ofdevelopmental neglect, abuse, and rejection. They oftenlive in a hostile environment comprised of fragmentedand overbearing families, alienated schools, and thedestructive social forces of guns, gangs, drugs,promiscuity, and poverty. The many needs of troubledchildren and youth cannot be squeezed into abehavioral, psychodynamic, cognitive, or sociallearning modality, except for narrow types of help.
If mental health services for troubled children andyouth are to survive, programs must reevaluate theillness model of treatment and develop a comprehensivestrength-based model. Young people must be seen asresourceful participants in their own healing, notpassive patients who need fixing.
At-risk and troubled students are also bringingall the social ills of our society into the classrooms,
causing teachers to feel overwhelmed and helpless.When schools separate these youth into alternativeprograms, the programs often become little more thancurriculums of control. The legal principle of zero reject(i.e., all students are entitled to an appropriate education)is being overridden by the political policy of zerotolerance (i.e., hold kids fully accountable, but allowstaff to give up on difficult youth).
Instead of providing special services, someschools are criminalizing misbehavior by transformingunfortunate schoolyard conflicts into violations of thecriminal code. This type of system makes one believethat there are educators who think that the criminaljustice system can raise kids better and educate thembetter than schools. Since problematic behavior is oftenrelated to emotional disturbance, schools that want todump their troubled kids need to keep these studentsfrom being identified as disabled. In some states, school-based services for seriously emotionally disturbedstudents are truncated by consultants who show schoolboards clever tricks for keeping special education offlimits to conduct problem, oppositional, and attentiondeficit/hyperactivity disorder children. Strikingly,children with these disabilities constitute a majority ofyouth who end up incarcerated in the juvenile system(Garfinkel, 1998). Thus, many seriously emotionallydisturbed children are being deprived of appropriatespecial services with the rationalization that theseyouths dont have a real disability, but are justchoosing to act in a socially maladjusted manner.Traditional strategies for discipline fail dramaticallywith a significant portion of highly troubled studentswho do not benefit from either punishment or exclusion.Students with emotional and behavioral disorders arethe most likely to be suspended and expelled, andultimately, to become dropouts or push-outs fromschool.
As the mental health and educational systemswash their hands of troubled children, the justice systembecomes the placement of last resort. Experts in juvenilejustice are calling for reforms based on positive youthdevelopment and restorative justice, which builds
competence in offenders. However, many politiciansprefer to serve out just desserts as they continue to shiftresources away from prevention and treatment, andtoward warehousing responses. There is not a shred ofscientific evidence that these punitive measures makeany sense. As Wylie (1998) concluded,
It seems horribly appropriate that, havingdenied children the kind of care and protectionthat all human animals must have, we decide topunish them, in essence, for our failure to raisethem in the first place and all the fancyrationalizations for adult sentencing of childrenforeshorten not only their future, but ours. Whatdo we think these 11- and 14- and 16-year-oldjailed felons will do when they are released?Become insurance brokers? Has there ever beena plan so exquisitely calculated to visit the sinsof the fathers upon the children and theirchildrens children? (p. 37)
LSCI is designed to be an alternative to reactivestrategies. Traditional approaches to troubled youthsare inherently pessimistic and reactive, and keyed tothe deviance and dysfunctions of youth. Youth whoprovoke hostile encounters with others often import toschool dysfunctional attitudes developed in the familyor on the street. While judicious use of wise punishmentdoes not convey rejection or disrespect for youth, apunitive climate does, and it is destructive to groupmorale and discipline. Certainly, school rules andcommunity laws require sanctions for seriouslyantisocial behavior. However, one cannot assume thatthe punishment alone will teach them a lesson. Ifpunishment is indicated, then the crisis surrounding thepunishment may itself provide an excellent opportunityfor learning and growth.
Many troubled youths distrust all adults andengage in patterns of coercive interactions and conflictcycles. Instead of using adults for guidance, they opposeor manipulate persons in authority. They also becomevery skillful in avoiding or resisting counselors whouse traditional deficit and disease models of mentalillness. In contrast, LSCI employs a strength-basedapproach of problem solving. Instead of an adultapproach of searching for deficits or disease, causingincreased resistance form the youth, LSCI-trained adultsuse the crisis to search for strengths and solution,increasing cooperation from the youth. The focus ofLSCI is on understanding the reasons forcounterproductive conflict cycles. This entails enlistingyouth in a careful analysis of crises that negativelyimpact the youth. An analogy is a coach guiding playersin reviewing videos of a losing game to identify what
went wrong.In studying the use of LSCI in schools, five main
findings were discovered:
1. School crises do not happen by appointment.School crises happen at the least convenient time forthe staff. These crises most commonly happen duringthe first 40 minutes of a school day; during transitionalperiods when students are changing classes; and whenstaff do not see the initial precipitating event, but haveto intervene and stop some dangerous behaviors.
2. During a crisis, teachers rely on theirpersonal authority. When school staff foundthemselves in a confrontational situation with students,they frequently relied on the powers of their authorityto encourage a student to change his or her behaviorand conform to school rules. Unfortunately, thesestudents had little respect for authority and were noteasily intimidated. The use of authority and teacherthreats as a management technique escalated theconflict. These students needed to understand and takeresponsibility for their behaviors rather than simply becoerced into superficial behavioral compliance.
3. School crises are triggered by a minorincident. Typically, school crises began with minorinappropriate student behavior such as not staying ontask, walking around the classroom, teasing peers, andarguing over the fairness of modification point systems.In most situations, the staff did not start or initiate theconflict, but they often responded in a style that fueledthe conflict and kept it going.
4. Staff become caug