Sufficiency through the Storm: Needs During and After Crisis


“What will I do now? Where will I go? How do I survive?” At any time, a client may walk into your office sharing a crisis situation that creates even more stress and anxiety in response to the unknown. Whether it be stressors of eviction, homelessness, loss of employment, disability, or financial strain, it can make it that much more difficult for a client to continue their therapeutic work around self-esteem, coping, or relationship development due to fear.  Fear of where they will sleep, fear of when they will eat, fear of what they will do to support their family, fear of not being able to find a job. As therapists, it becomes even more important to meet our clients where they are in a situation like this, not asking too much of them as they navigate their basic needs.  Needs for shelter, food and water, needs for safety and security. According to Abraham Maslow when introducing his hierarchy of needs, only then, when these basic needs are achieved and maintained, can a person advance to the next level of work on relationships, self-esteem, and creativity or purpose.


Hierarchy as a Roadmap to Change

Maslow first introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs in studying extraordinary individuals in a quest to understand their happiness and ways of life. His concepts have since been applied in medical and mental health spheres to better support patients and clients as they navigate through difficulty and a variety of stressors. It is helpful to look at the healing journey through the lens of a hierarchy of needs to best support a client with treatment planning as well as identifying valuable resources to support growth and stability.


Access to Resources

Depending on their needs, knowing where to find valuable resources can be an immense help in supporting our clients through crisis. In Colorado, we can access resources through a variety of databases that allow searches for food banks, clothing, shelter, free legal services, and more. Colorado 2-1-1 and Metro Crisis Services both offer a “service finder,” accessing up-to-date resources throughout the state. The Community Assessment and Coordination of Safety (CACS) is a web tool for professional helpers that allows one to search for mental health and substance referrals including providers, self-help, and community support groups by level of need, city, region, and age. One final resource in Colorado that could be beneficial is offered by Mean Street Ministry, a 16-page resource guide with locations, hours, and type of service offered throughout Colorado that can be meaningful for client exploration and self-advocacy.


Awareness and Advocacy

In addition to being aware of appropriate resources, it is important to be aware of client limits in taking in new information during a crisis. For many providers, it is expected that we slow down our goal progression, maybe even put a topic or intervention on hold in order to support the client with the here and now, the need for stabilization. By remaining present with the client in the current moment, we can still serve them by identifying next steps and possibly advocating for their needs in connecting them to a variety of support services. Whether its providing them with a list of resources or connecting them to the most appropriate referral, our response to their needs in crisis can support them in personal advocacy and growth with an opportunity to gain control and practice coping skills to manage the existing stressors.


How We Can Help

For many clients, our ability to hold space for their fear, anxiety, and grief is healing in and of itself. Recognizing the immense stress crisis and unanticipated change can have on our clients, acknowledging their fears, and conveying they are not alone can be powerful catalysts for change. Helping to stabilize the crisis is necessary before other therapeutic goals and work can progress. In light of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many therapists are signing up to support those most in need and devastated by crisis, by volunteering their time to offer caring, compassion, and space to grieve and heal. There are several ways to help those in need. For more information on how to support our communities impacted by natural disaster, please visit

More information on resources in Colorado can be found at or by calling 2-1-1,, or

Safety Planning with At-Risk Families: Exploring the Benefits

Safety Planning

Warning signs, safety measures, plan of action, and supports. These are all vital components of crisis response and safety planning in the field of mental health. Safety planning can be considered a helpful resource to assess safety needs for each family member and develop awareness of individual needs by loved ones when participating in discussion. It can also serve as an empowerment tool to allow advocacy and engagement in positive coping skills when the family is experiencing conflict. Due to family systems becoming more diverse to meet the needs of support and connection, the term family can be defined in non-traditional ways. Not only does it capture the nuclear or biological family, it may also comprise of blended families, extended family, step-parents, foster siblings, or “chosen family.” Chosen family can include but is not limited to, close friends, mentors, and godparents.

Bringing individuals together in their roles in the family system, it has become increasingly important to include all members in safety planning when addressing mental health and safety in order to unify the family and achieve meaningful results. In serving at-risk youth and families in the Denver Metro Area, safety planning has proven to be invaluable in exploring awareness of triggers for disruption and conflict, safety needs; thus engaging the family in exploration to foster empowerment and change. Safety planning allows the whole family to explore their needs rather than isolating one individual as the “identified problem.”


The Benefits

The benefits of safety planning can be demonstrated for one family of seven suffering from neglect, domestic violence, and substance use that lead to Department of Human Services involvement due to ongoing safety concerns. The family system consisted of mom Jenna* (36), boyfriend David (27), daughters Fiona (16), Margot (14), Patricia (6), and sons Julian (9) and Bobbie (2). Jenna and her family were referred to in-home family therapy due to safety concerns with Jenna’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting in substance use, domestic violence with her boyfriend David, and neglectful parenting that was negatively impacting each child.

It was the hope of the Department of Human Services to support the family in reuniting and repairing their relationship now that Jenna was sober from substances and ready to actively parent in the household.

Observing and engaging the family in rapport building, it was quickly apparent which role each member played in the family system. Jenna was able to identify her challenges in parenting her children in that they were each struggling with her absence in different ways. Fiona identified her anger that lead to running away from home and engaging in fights at school. Margot reported being a strong student and keeping to herself in her room when not parenting her younger siblings in Jenna’s absence. Patricia was observed to be childlike with attention-seeking behaviors younger than her biological age, whereas her older brother Julian escaped into video games to remain unseen. The youngest, Bobbie, was observed to struggle with meeting developmental milestones and resorted to screaming and hitting himself and others when emotionally dysregulated.

Through engaging Jenna, David, and the kids in a safety planning therapeutic activity, they were able to begin to recognize each of their individual differences regarding warning signs, as well as the coping skills needed to support connection and emotion regulation.  Jenna began to learn more about her children and their needs through identifying warning signs such as isolation, anger, and behavioral changes signifying distress for each child at their developmental level.

Jenna also identified her own triggers and reactions to her children as they related to her trauma and urge to escape.



When Jenna couldn’t escape her PTSD symptoms through work or substances, she was able to recognize the increased risk of conflict and aggression leading to fights with her boyfriend David. The safety planning served as a tool of discovery for family members and empowered each of them to advocate for their needs through healthy communication. For Jenna and her family, the safety plan served as a means of taking action to support the family in times of conflict and crisis.

Through this process, the children felt heard, Jenna identified goals for ongoing individual therapy work to maintain sobriety, and David and Jenna were able to identify new ways of communicating as a couple in order to bring the entire family closer together. Safety planning can be introduced and implemented early in the therapeutic process to explore family patterns, coping skill needs, and foster trust and safety while empowering families to remain together, connected and aware. A safety plan template is available for professional use along with a suicide risk assessment called the Community Assessment and Coordination of Safety (CACS) at

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality