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Is Your Addition Treatment Staff Well-Trained in Patient Conflict Management?


Addiction treatment specialists frequently deal with conflict. They deal with the conflicting emotions their patients feel when recovering from substance abuse. They also have to cope with their own internal mixed emotions about patients who struggle with getting clean.

What about the physical and mental conflict that comes from patients that are combative or aggressive? That takes the level of conflict to an entirely different level and it is something that the staff in addiction treatment facilities must learn to handle.

This article explores the importance of continual education in de-escalation techniques for all staff members of an addiction medicine practice. Why is conflict likely to occur in this setting? How can staff members effectively deal with patient conflict?

Addiction Treatment and De-Escalation Training

An article in AddictionPro points out what might be obvious to the seasoned addiction treatment counselor:

“Clients exhibit (therapeutic) resistance as a form of protection from awareness. Anger is a natural human emotion; however, when anger gets out of control, it can lead to problems.”

It is precisely this issue for which addiction treatment facilities must continually prepare and educate staff – or run the risk of being caught unprepared when an incident happens. This training should cross staff job descriptions; even a properly trained maintenance team can respond appropriately if a fight breaks out in a hallway they are cleaning.

Addiction treatment

Taking the time to give a patient your undivided attention is just the beginning of the de-escalation process.

Some states require this training and recertification process for law enforcement and care providers in addiction treatment facilities. An article in Crisis Prevention suggests that the following tips should be taught and practiced as part of any de-escalation training designed to curb aggressive patient behavior:

  • Give the patients your undivided attention. This conveys the feeling that you are there for them, even when they are behaving badly.
  • Refrain from judgment; any sort of attitude you have could be conveyed in non-verbal’s, which will serve the opposite of de-escalation.
  • Acknowledge feelings, even if they are not appropriate or simply do not make senseAllow your sense of empathy to guide your interaction.
  • Use silence as a calming mechanism.
  • Clarify the patient message and do not assume understanding. Try restating what the patient said instead of asking a direct question, which could be perceived as a challenge.
  • Have a plan in place to deal with patient aggression. The addiction treatment facility should have staff practice drills related to patient aggression.
  • Rely on the team when dealing with a highly volatile situation.
  • Recognize your limits, which may include difficulty in handling these situations. Sometimes the best decision is the one that allows you to step away.
  • Debrief and talk about any incidents that occur. Do this, first, as a way to help lessen the stress. Also, take the time to debrief in order to help the addiction treatment facility create better operational procedures for the next time an event occurs.

Addiction treatment professionals must learn to deal with stressful and sometimes dangerous situations with the patients they are trying to help. Training regularly on intervention techniques designed to de-escalate will help keep the addiction treatment staff and the patients they serve safer and create a calmer environment for everyone involved.

Want to create an easy way for your patients to get intensive addiction care when needed? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.

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