Crisis Counseling for COVID-19 Outbreak and Natural Disasters

To help people suffering from severe anxiety or trauma due to natural disasters such as hurricane, or events such as COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, crisis counsellors use different techniques for adults and children.

Crisis Counseling for Adults

Adult reactions to a natural disaster include anxiety, sadness, numbness and anger; they feel overwhelmed by a sense of loss, by a general sense of disorientation and negative affect.

Drawing on past strength

The intervention procedures can be a longer one or a short one, depending on the actual situation and the counselor’s judgement.

The longer procedure allows people to express their affect and experiences, both during and after the disaster. The counselor then encourages clients to describe positive coping experiences from the past, and the therapeutic focus thereafter remains on the person’s strengths and potential for recovery and renewal.

The shorter procedure allocates less time for people to dwell on negative experiences, instead focuses them rather quickly on the immediate future and engaging in short-term goal setting.

Stress reduction exercise

In addition to drawing on people’s perceived strengths, counselors use some stress-reduction exercises that people could use themselves daily; for instance, the guided imagery technique is an effective stress management technique.

To practice guided imagery, envision yourself in the midst of the most relaxing environment you can imagine. For some, this would be floating in the cool, clear waters off of a remote tropical island, where attractive people bring drinks and smooth music plays in the background. For others, this might be sitting by a fire in a secluded snow cabin, deep in the woods, sipping hot cocoa and reading the latest bestseller while wrapped in a plush blanket and fuzzy slippers.

Crisis Counseling for Children

For children, the sense of a safe, secure, and predictable world has been undermined. This varied sense of loss can be observed in the children’s anxieties, repetitive play themes, increased dependency, and regressive behaviors.

Acting out the disaster

One counseling practice is to have children speak out or even act out the disaster – the death scenes, the chaos, the morning after the disaster, etc. It should be noted that children in the midst of giving an account of their fears may get “stuck” at the most frightening moment of the event, and an effective technique in such cases is encouraging children to complete their play with positive endings.

Drawing out the fear

Another important counseling technique for children is to have the child draw the feared stimuli, which forces the overwhelming abstract fear into a more manageable and delimited concrete form. Counselor then encourages the child to express feelings such as anger and sadness in response to the drawing.

With the child drawing out what they fear, the next step is crucial. The child should be allowed to defeat the picture — by talking to it, yelling at it, stamping on it, crumpling it into a ball, throwing it away, or tearing it up. The catharsis and sense of control the children gained from this experience appear to broaden their perceived sense of power, in addition to dealing with this acute crisis.

Sources consulted:

Use Guided Imagery for Relaxation:

Janine S. Shelby and Michael G. Tredinnick. 1995. Crisis Intervention With Survivors of Natural Disaster: Lessons From Hurricane Andrew. Journal of Counseling & Development. May/June. Volume 73, pp. 491-497.


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