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Critical Incident Response: How Onsite Counselors Help Employees and Employers

By Randy Withers, LCMHC LCAS

As a therapist, part of my job is to provide support during a critical incident response (CIRs). In this article, I will explain the role of a counselor in critical incidents, particularly in providing onsite counseling for employee support. We will explore what critical incidents are, the importance of counselors in CIRs, examples of situations that may require a CIR, and how onsite counseling can be beneficial for employers.

Let’s first make sure we are all on the same page and define some terms. So, to start with, what are critical incidents and what is a critical incident response?

What are Critical Incidents?

Critical incidents are traumatic events that can have a significant impact on individuals and communities. These events can include natural disasters, workplace accidents, acts of violence, and other traumatic incidents that cause distress, fear, and emotional upheaval.

 Critical incidents can affect not only the individuals directly involved, but also witnesses, first responders, and other employees in the workplace.

What Is A Critical Incident Response (CIR)?

A Critical Incident Response (CIR) is a planned approach that employers use to provide support and assistance to employees who have experienced a traumatic event. It’s like a proactive strategy to help employees who have been through something difficult. 

CIR usually involves a team of trained professionals, including counselors, who come to the location where the incident occurred and provide onsite counseling, debriefing, and other types of support to employees who are affected. It’s all about helping employees cope with the emotional and psychological impact of the incident while supporting their well-being. 

CIR can happen in different places like workplaces, schools, or communities, and it covers various types of incidents, like accidents, natural disasters, violence, and other traumatic events. 

Key Takeaways

  • Critical incidents can cause physical, emotional, and psychological reactions in individuals and groups.
  • Organizations must have a plan in place to respond to critical incidents, including a crisis management team.
  • Critical incident response plans should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure their effectiveness.
  • Effective communication is essential during a critical incident response, both internally and externally.
  • Employers can provide support to employees through counseling and other resources to mitigate the impact of critical incidents.
  • Counselors can provide critical support and education, acting as part of a critical incident response team.

The Counselor’s Role in Critical Incidents

In the context of onsite counseling for critical incidents, counselors can be present at the location where the incident occurred or at the workplace to provide immediate support to employees who may be in distress. 

Counselors are trained to assess the emotional and psychological needs of individuals who have experienced a critical incident. They also  provide Psychological First Aid during CIRs, which is like “field therapy” in the wake of a crisis. 

Psychological First Aid involves practical guidance, reassurance, and validation of emotions to help individuals manage their distress and cope with the immediate aftermath of a critical incident. This may include active listening, providing information about normal reactions to trauma, and helping individuals develop healthy coping strategies.

Onsite Counseling for Critical Incidents

Onsite counseling is a form of counseling that occurs at the location where the critical incident occurred or at the workplace.Onsite counseling can be beneficial during a critical incident response, as it allows counselors to offer immediate support to individuals who may be in shock, overwhelmed, or struggling with intense emotions. 

Being physically present at the scene of the incident or the workplace can provide a sense of safety and security for individuals, and can help create a trusting therapeutic relationship between the counselor and the individual in need of support.

Onsite counseling can also help prevent long-term psychological issues related to the critical incident. By providing early intervention and support, counselors can help individuals better cope with the emotional aftermath of the event, reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and facilitate the healing process.

Examples of Situations that Could Require a Critical Incident Response

Critical incidents can occur in various settings. Examples that may require a critical incident response include:

  • Workplace accidents or injuries
  • Acts of violence in the workplace, such as a robbery or active shooter situation
  • Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires
  • Transportation accidents, such as a plane crash or a train derailment
  • Community disasters, such as mass shootings or terrorist attacks

In these situations, employees and other individuals may experience significant emotional distress, shock, and trauma. A CIR, including the presence of onsite counselors, can help provide immediate support and assistance to those affected, facilitating their emotional recovery and reducing the risk of long-term psychological issues.

In 2020, there were an estimated 380,000 workplace violence incidents in the USA.
Of those incidents, 20,000 resulted in injuries and 511 resulted in fatalities.
The most common types of workplace violence are physical assaults, threats, and harassment.
The most common victims of workplace violence are women, healthcare workers, and law enforcement officers.
In 2020, there were an estimated 5,333 workplace fatalities in the USA.
The most common causes of workplace fatalities are falls, struck by objects, and transportation incidents.
The most common victims of workplace fatalities are men, construction workers, and transportation workers.
Workplace Violence and Accidents in the USA

Benefits of Onsite Counseling for Employers

Employers play a crucial role in supporting their employees’ well-being during and after critical incidents. Utilizing onsite counseling services can offer several benefits for employers, including:

  • Employee Support and Well-being: Onsite counseling demonstrates a proactive approach by employers to prioritize the well-being and mental health of their employees. It shows that the employer cares about their employees’ emotional state and is committed to providing support during difficult times. This can lead to increased employee loyalty, satisfaction, and retention.
  • Reduced Absenteeism and Presenteeism: Critical incidents can impact employees’ ability to function effectively at work. Onsite counseling can help employees process their emotions and cope with the aftermath of the incident, reducing the risk of prolonged absence or reduced productivity due to presenteeism (i.e., being present at work but not fully engaged). This can ultimately save employers costs associated with lost productivity and absenteeism.
  • Mitigation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Early intervention through onsite counseling can help mitigate the risk of employees developing PTSD or other long-term psychological issues related to the critical incident. By providing support and counseling in the immediate aftermath of the incident, employers can help employees better cope with the trauma and reduce the likelihood of long-term mental health issues.
  • Enhanced Workplace Morale and Resilience: Critical incidents can impact workplace morale and resilience. Onsite counseling can help employees process their emotions, cope with stress, and build resilience, which can contribute to a more supportive and resilient workplace culture. Employees may feel more supported and cared for by their employer, leading to increased morale and a sense of community within the workplace.
a critical incident response
  • Legal and Ethical Obligations: Employers have legal and ethical obligations to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. Providing onsite counseling as part of a CIR can be seen as fulfilling these obligations and taking proactive measures to support employees’ mental health and well-being during critical incidents.
  • Positive Public Relations: Employers who prioritize the well-being of their employees, including providing onsite counseling during critical incidents, can create positive public relations. It demonstrates a commitment to employee care and can enhance the organization’s reputation among customers, partners, and the broader community.
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Utilization: Onsite counseling during a CIR can also raise awareness about existing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that employers may have in place. EAPs provide confidential counseling and support services to employees for many personal and work-related issues. Utilizing onsite counseling during a CIR can highlight the availability of these services and encourage employees to seek further support through the EAP if needed.

Final Thoughts

When a critical incident occurs, it can deeply impact individuals and communities, and as employers have a responsibility to take proactive steps to support their employees’ well-being during these difficult times. Onsite counseling by trained counselors can offer support and help individuals cope with the emotional aftermath of a critical incident, which can have lasting benefits for both employees and employers.

As an employer, offering onsite counseling demonstrates a commitment to your employees’ well-being and creates a positive and supportive workplace culture. It can foster loyalty, job satisfaction, and retention among our employees, while also reducing absenteeism and presenteeism, which can save on productivity costs. 

Early intervention through onsite counseling can also help prevent long-term psychological issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and contribute to a resilient workplace where employees feel supported and cared for.

As a therapist, I understand the importance of providing immediate onsite counseling during critical incidents, and I am here to support you and your employees. 

If you are an employer or organization in need of support for your employees during critical incidents, I urge you to consider the benefits of onsite counseling. Let’s work together to prioritize the well-being of your employees and create a workplace environment where they feel supported and cared for. 

Please feel free to contact me for more information on how I can assist you in providing onsite counseling for your employees during critical incidents. Together, we can navigate these challenging times and promote the emotional recovery and well-being of your employees.

*Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional regarding your specific situation.

Additional Resources

Randy Withers LCMHC, owner of Practical Counseling and Wellness Solutions, PLLC

About The Author

Randy Withers, LCMHC LCAS is a board-certified Counselor licensed to treat mental health and addictions in North Carolina. He specializes in men's mental health, addictions, and enjoys working with LGBTQ, law enforcement, veterans, first responders, and therapists communities. He is the owner of Practical Counseling and Wellness Solutions.

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