Training on de-escalation is a huge business, and sadly, given the world we live in, business has never been ‘better.’ I offer such instruction myself. Nonetheless, I have long been concerned with the top-down nature of such training. There is no doubt that a lot of valuable information can be conveyed to attendees through a one or two day, or even a weeklong course. However, it is often only imperfectly institutionalized. Few law enforcement, corrections or security agencies integrate the verbal de-escalation strategies they acquire within their defensive tactics training. Few social services agencies or businesses set-up scenario training or other role-play drills to fold de-escalation strategies within their day-to-day clinical or business practices.
It is quite understandable, however, why this information is not institutionalized:
- There is limited time. Businesses much operate, and agencies, be they social services, fire fighter/EMS or law enforcement, need their people to be working.
- Such practice can easily be awkward, stilted or contrived, resulting in employees rejecting the whole idea, something that can also undermine classic ‘train the trainer’ programs.
- The original trainer, often dynamic and charismatic, can carry people’s spirits during the training and perhaps for a few months afterwards, but within a short period of time, he or she is mostly remembered for his or her personality, not the content of the training. Institutional trainers can be ‘measured’ against the original trainer, not by the content of his/her presentation, but merely on the entertainment value or skill of their style of teaching.
It is for this reason that I developed my series of books on de-escalation. These books are profession-specific, many written with a subject-matter expert, so that each is tailor-made to a specific profession. Each chapter is succinct and readable, but not simplistic. My goal is to assist everyone in becoming an expert—rather than setting up a dependent relationship on myself or any other trainer. This, however, must be a goal for all the members of an institution, not just certain individuals:
- The agency purchases books for every employee, either concurrent to an Edgework training, or directly (without a preliminary training). NOTE: Many agencies try to save money by buying one book for the library or perhaps one for each unit and place it in a common area. It has been my observation that the book becomes little more than a paperweight. A few people thumb may through it during a break, but the information does not become part of the general culture of the organization). At any rate, when one actually looks at real costs—comparing book purchase where everyone becomes expert compared to frequent trainings—this is really not such an expensive proposition.
- The book will be required reading by all employees (from front line to directors), but not in one go. Instead, section leaders, supervisors or the like assign one chapter a weekly or bi-weekly. This can be in order from the first chapter, or selectively, depending on the type of incidents or people you are dealing with.
- The information is institutionalized in one of the following two ways:
- Employees are given a four question, multiple choice, open-book take-home test on one chapter (note that a lot of chapters have a summary at the end of salient points within that chapter, making this quite easy). Four questions is sufficient, because the goal is to get everyone to read the chapter and look for the answers, not to execute a comprehensive test on every item. Also, this lessens the burden on supervisory staff who devise each test. Staff are required to turn in the test (or if the agency has an intranet, it can all occur online). This is not a test to evaluate skills or knowledge. Rather, it is to get everyone ‘on the same page’ concerning interactions with individuals displaying specific behaviors, or ensuring that everyone has essential knowledge on risk assessment, policy or safety in the field.
- All members of a unit (or in small organization, the entire agency) are assigned a chapter on a weekly or biweekly basis. One member is designated to present five to ten minutes on the content of the chapter, and other members can add their input, as needed, in an informal discussion.
The purpose is to make verbal de-escalation skills and effective communication with those who may suffer from mental illness or other emotional disturbance knowledge held in common. For those who are responsible for containing aggression with higher levels of force (from psychiatric hospitals to law enforcement and corrections), this information will enhance the effective use of physical intervention tactics when the latter necessary, rather than conflict with them in any way.
Rather than designated experts, within or without the agency, everyone will come to possess the same level of skill. Rather than employees or officers looking for a specialized unit or team to respond when verbal de-escalation is necessary, everyone becomes an expert, knows what to do, and can trust that other members of their team know what to do as well.
There is also a final benefit: nothing improves group solidarity more than the knowledge that whenever there is an emergency, one can depend on each and every co-worker to know what to do and to be trusted to do it.