I recently attended a conference related to violence and the assessment of potential for violence. I have attended many of these types of conferences over the years and have found a common theme presented to be the subtle and sometimes not so subtle punitive response to those who utter threats or are viewed as a potential to escalate towards violence.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear a speaker aptly describe that the outcome of threat assessment and intervention is often better served by using a more restorative response. While all threats should be taken very seriously, we also know that most people who utter threats never follow through on their threats. When we engage these individuals with a punitive response we may risk further isolating the individual and indirectly encourage escalation.
While not always possible or appropriate, engagement with the person of concern is the best way to assess the likelihood of violence. Engaging this person with a curious set of questions versus a judgemental line of questions may look like this:
“I’m curious, as to what you meant when you said/wrote…”
“I’d like to know more about you thoughts related to…”
In reality, attention to the type of questioning is only one element of curiosity. The interviewer’s body language and tone play an important role in setting a restorative approach versus a punitive approach.
The assessment of potential for violence is extremely challenging and in no way is this brief review meant to simplify the issue. The challenge in threat assessment is to be proactive without being overly reactive. Approaching individuals with curiosity is one of many important considerations involved in threat assessment.
Randy Grieser, MSW, RSW
Director, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.
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