THE NATURE OF EDGEWORK TRAINING
Thank you very much for visiting this website. I welcome an opportunity to work with your staff to increase not only their sense of safety, but their ability to manifest ‘Grace Under Fire:’ ready for the worst while presenting their best. Most participants find my training full of laughter and surprise: focused adamantly on safety for all concerned, clinically sound, yet entertaining at the same time.
Other sections of this website will describe the specific training seminars that I offer. Here I would like to describe what makes Edgework training unique, and help you determine if it right for your agency. (NOTE: Please also read the page on Edgework Books, to understand how vital all Edgework trainers believe my books to be as a component for training. Through the use of these books, members of your agency are empowered to continuously increase their skills. Purchase is not required to set up an Edgework training, but we cannot emphasize strongly enough how they enhance your employees’ skills years after the training has occurred.)
Edgework training could be termed a ‘dynamic interactive classroom.’ I attempt to provide a tremendous amount of useable information in a very short period of time. I do this by presenting the information in as energetic and colorful way as I can. The imagery I use is memorable, and my role playing is physically quite dramatic. I recount episodes from my own career, in particular my mistakes, so that people can laugh and learn at the same time. I’ve met people ten years after a training who remember a story I told that transformed the way they did their own work. (Please see the page Praise for Edgework for attendees’ perspective on this method).
Why do I teach this way? It would be a lot easier to fire up a Powerpoint, dim the lights and just present the information. The core issue is this: People manifest many types of aggression, and many more types of emotionally disturbed behaviors (irrespective of cause, by the way – crisis intervention is based on behavior not diagnosis or a root cause). Each type of behavior that people exhibit must be associated with a best-practice tactic that offered the optimum chance of ensuring safety for everyone involved.
In crisis intervention, however, you only have a brief moment to Assess, Decide and Act. This is only possible is you are able to instantaneously recognize a mode of aggression or type of behavior, so that you can apply the best tactical intervention. One method I use to illustrate the information I provide is to enact very accurate and vivid role plays of behavior. I refer to this as ‘Shapeshifting,’ the ability to take on the physical actions, the verbalizations and character traits of various individuals who are aggressive, mentally ill or in crisis. I do not, however, single out class members to try to ‘de-escalate’ me on the spot. Rather, they bear witness – my depictions are vivid enough that participants have emotional and physical reactions to what they are observing, and most remember individuals they have had to deal with (be it during an arrest, while in a custodial situation, or while trying to maintain them in the community as a client). Note that these role plays are brief demonstrations, like grains of pepper within a full course meal.
When doing this ‘shapeshifting,’ I appear to be fully in character. Consequently, I may be loud or rude, and use the language (and style of language, particularly important when trying to recognize mania, psychosis, depression, etc) that people in such emotional states actually express. This may include some profanity, and other words and phrases that some may find surprising or even disturbing. It is not the way I talk in real life. However, it is the way people talk (or yell or scream) when they are actually aggressive or emotionally disturbed. Please note that I have no agenda of ‘desensitizing’ anyone, but I have never known of anyone able to learn skills of de-escalation when all they did was comfortably lean back in their chair, imagining aggression in the abstract. I simply want people to be able to recognize what type of danger they are facing, so that they are never caught unawares and victimized by predators, bullies or desperately ill and disordered individuals, each of whom manifests aggression in a different way. You must know each of them well, so that you can immediately enact the de-escalation tactic that best ensures everyone’s safety.
A central part of Edgework is ‘control of self,’ specifically learning how to manage one’s own reactions so that one’s ‘buttons’ aren’t pushed. I teach specific breathing methods to achieve an emotional balance similar to that of a tightrope walker or skateboarder, a dynamic calm where you are relaxed, yet prepared for anything. I also teach how to become aware of your ‘hot buttons,’ the things that throw us off balance and make us lose control of our own thoughts, behavior, and boundaries. If your hot button is pushed – for example, someone insults your mother, derides your appearance, says a nasty obscenity, or a sexist or racist slur – you must have the skill to calmly push that button right back to the ‘off position,’ so you can do your job with both compassion and strength. If you are able to maintain such calm, you will neither act like a victim, overwhelmed with emotion and open to attack, nor a combatant, escalating the problem as you ‘argue back’ in reaction to what the other person said or did. You will also be able to differentiate between the genuinely malevolent and those who were uncouth, unconscious or unaware at that moment.
I must note one final point. There is a new cultural meme, particularly in social services: ‘hot buttons’ are now referred to as ‘triggers.’ This is an unfortunate trend. A button is like a wall switch: tripped at the wrong time, it can cause a blinding flash of light, but we can flip that switch off again. A trigger is what arms a bomb or fires a gun. You cannot un-fire it. People who believe themselves to be ‘triggered,’ (and it is a belief, not a fact) feel helpless and out of control. They are often unable to see a situation in context. They become emotionally flooded if they hear a certain word, for example, no matter what the intent of the other person.. Once upset or angered, the ‘triggered’ individual justifies whatever they do because they have been ‘triggered.’ The irony is that this is exactly the same justification that aggressors use for their violent acts.
I consider it a moral responsibility for anyone serving the public to master themselves. To succeed in any ‘edge’ profession, be you social worker correctional officer, human resources manager or police, you must be the ‘eye of the hurricane,’ compelling the chaos to revolve around your calm center. We all have buttons – I certainly do – but the art of the work we do is to roll with the punches, be they emotional or physical: not counter-attack or crumple because we allow ourselves to become emotionally off-center.
The possibility of being a victim of aggression or even violence is frightening to all of us. Any safety training is thus, inherently ‘unsafe,’ due to its subject matter (of course, on ethical grounds, it is never gratuitously so). If we do not achieve the ability to clearly differentiate the nature of aggressive behavior, which may range from the quite amusement of a sociopathic criminal, the thuggish brutality of the bully, to the berserk chaos of an individual in excited delirium, we will not be safe when it really matters.
On the other hand, an information rich, high-energy training that frequently rolls with laugher and surprise, enables one to consider this subject with a spacious attitude: that within us, we have the resources to handle the worst that may occur. Interestingly, violence is then less likely to to come our way, because joyous, emotionally powerful people are far less often targets of potentially aggressive people.