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What to Expect from De-Escalation Training for Social Workers

Learn important de-escalation skills that can help your social workers deal with stressful interactions. PLA’s training courses include:

  • A basic sequence for de-escalating individuals

  • Effective tools for emotional self-management

  • The basics of escalated conflict

  • How to attend to emotional clients confidently

  • Body language and tone awareness skills

PLA is recognized by the Society for Human Resource Management

to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP® or SHRM-SCP® recertification activities.
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Social workers are mental health professionals that help people cope with problems and stressful situations in their daily lives. They are committed to helping vulnerable people and communities work through challenging times. People facing difficult times may be struggling with mental health issues which frequently lead to emotional outbursts or acting out. Training in de-escalation techniques for social workers is a good way to help professionals in this field be prepared to handle whatever comes up.

Why is De-Escalation Training So Important for Social Workers?

Social workers and first responders such as fire, police, and emergency medical services or other professionals frequently have to deal with people who are in the middle of a crisis such as a mental health crisis or a substance abuse crisis. During a crisis, the client’s usual methods of coping or problem-solving aren’t working.

For social workers, learning de-escalation skills provide preparation to navigate intensifying or explosive situations. Effective de-escalation strategies can help social workers to build a safe connection with anyone who is in crisis while keeping their own safety in mind.

What Problems Are Faced By Those With a Mental Illness?

Individuals who are struggling with mental illness often find that their mental health issues have triggered additional challenges. For example, homelessness can be a consequence of untreated mental illness. An inability to bring symptoms under control can lead to belligerence, violent behavior, and encounters with law enforcement, which can also lead to incarceration.

Mental health professionals provide services that aim to help those who are mentally ill find a solution to their challenges. A course or workshop in de-escalation teaches effective verbal intervention skills needed to reach clients who are overwhelmed and frustrated.

Learning to Recognize Warning Signs of Loss of Control

De-escalation practices are most effective when used before a full-blown crisis has erupted. There are warning signs that an individual is starting to lose control. Things to watch for include:

  • Pacing
  • Confusion
  • Raising their voice
  • Intoxication
  •  Appears delusional
  • Intent on self-harm

When dealing with an agitated client, it’s important to assess the risk of violence. Does the client have a weapon or easy access to a weapon? Personal safety has to be kept in mind when deciding whether it’s possible to use de-escalation tactics. Most clients are not threatening, but it’s important to recognize when personal safety or public safety might be threatened.

The Importance of Listening Skills

Listening skills are among the most important de-escalation skills social workers need to have. When a client is feeling intense emotions that are escalating, they need to know they’re being heard. Failure to listen to what they’re trying to communicate is likely to quickly make a bad situation worse.

Active listening skills are a way to be completely focused on the client. Nod when appropriate and ask questions if their meaning isn’t clear. Taking notes and repeating their statements back to them is a good way to be sure their intended meaning is coming across.

Verbal De-Escalation

Whenever possible, use verbal communication skills to de-escalate challenging situations. Effective verbal responses can help to reduce the risk of physical confrontations. Things to keep in mind include:

  • State your desire to help and speak quietly and slowly.
  • Always be respectful and let them know you’re genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say.
  • Choose words that are calming or soothing.
  • Encourage the other person to open up to you using phrases like “Help me understand.”
  • Ask open-ended questions and encourage more detailed answers.
  • Avoid being argumentative or impatient. 

If things are escalating, suggest a break or a time-out. Don’t show fear or give ultimatums but keep safety in mind.

Body Language

When offering assistance to people in crisis, it’s imperative that you have an awareness of using body language that’s non-threatening. Some things social workers should keep in mind about body language include:

  • Don’t turn your back on the person you’re talking to.
  • Allow plenty of space between you and others.
  • Don’t use gestures that might be considered threatening, such as pointing or shaking your finger at the other person.
  • Don’t use any physical contact since some people find even a light touch on the shoulder to be threatening.

Avoid putting your hands in your pockets. In some cases, violent situations develop when someone is fearful that you could have a weapon. Be self-aware about your facial expressions and tone of voice. Pay attention to the other person’s body language and what they may not be saying verbally but are communicating with their facial expression or aggressive gestures.

Remaining Calm

The wrong response can quickly make a bad situation worse. Social workers need to appear calm even when not feeling calm. Interactions with people who are feeling emotional or are mentally ill can be unpredictable, but you need to project an appearance of calmness and confidence since losing control of your own emotions can trigger even more volatile emotions in the client.

Be Empathetic  

Almost everyone is dealing with struggles or challenges of some kind. Social workers who are trying to offer support and assistance must be empathetic to the unique needs of each person. Consider what someone is going through and avoid being judgmental or impatient. Let them vent if that’s what they need to do and offer support and understanding.

Connecting People to Resources

The role of a professional in social work is to provide tools that offer hope and help whenever possible. De-escalation training can develop or improve your ability to calm people down and prevent situations from getting any worse so that the client can be connected with community resources that may help. Clients facing joblessness or homelessness may benefit from shelter or food assistance while those dealing with substance abuse may benefit from learning about treatment options or may need transportation to mental health clinics.

When De-Escalation Tactics Don’t Work

De-escalation skills may not work in every situation. In violent situations or if an individual appears delusional or psychotic, efforts to use de-escalating may be ineffective. Focus on the immediate problem and assess each situation to determine the best response. Keep your safety in mind as well as the safety of the individual in crisis.

Need de-escalation training for your team? Get in touch to see how we can help today!