Warning signs of client-initiated violence
rapid breathing, clenched fists and teeth, flared nostrils, flushed expression, panic, loud talking or chanting, restless and repetitive movements, clinging to staff, pacing, aggressive gestures (e.g. pointing, hands on hips), swearing excessively, use of sexually explicit language, veiled threats, verbal abuse, unprovoked outbursts of anger or emotion, or sexual harassment.
argues frequently and intensely, blatantly disregards ‘normal’ behaviour, obsessional thinking and behaviour, throws/sabotages/ steals equipment or property, makes overt verbal threats to hurt employees, rage reactions to frustration, violent or sexual comments sent via email, voicemail, SMS, or letter, and blaming others for all difficulties.
fascination with weapons, substance abuse, severe stress, violent history, marked changes in psychological functioning, exotic claims (losing touch with reality), social isolation or poor peer relationships, poor personal hygiene, and drastic changes in personality.
destruction of property, involvement in physical confrontations or assault, display of or use of weapons, evidence of sexual assault, arson or suicide risk.
(Mayhew 2000, p.28)
Preventing and defusing conflict
It is always better to try to prevent aggressive behaviour from occurring in the first place, rather than having to intervene once the behaviour has begun.
Agencies and workers need to be aware of factors that can contribute to aggression. These include:
- physical climate
- emotional climate
- staff behaviour
- actual or perceived poor service delivery
- inadequate design of the environment
- extreme anxiety, fear, anger
- illness (especially mental health issues)
- deficits in coping skills
- malicious intent.
There have been many strategies developed over a period of time for preventing and defusing aggressive and other negative client behaviour.
Some of the most effective include:
- Solution-focused behavioural change model (Molnar & de Shazer 1987, Walter & Peller 1993)
- Reality therapy and Choice theory (Dr William Glasser began developing in the 1960s, and developed further since)
- Negotiation and conflict management techniques (win–win solutions).
Challenging behaviour can be passive or active and the above strategies move away from the old ‘behaviour management’ concept. This related more to control, discipline, and behaviour modification. The old concept of managing client behaviour was of the worker or carer doing something to, rather than working with, a client. The client was a problem and the worker attempted to fix the problem – a very clinical approach.
We will discuss the three approaches listed above in later sections.