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Crisis vs. critical life event

Everyone is using the word “crisis” now. In a psychological context, we speak of a critical life event, which may subsequently develop into a crisis situation. But what does all that mean, and what can you do to get through such a critical situation or to avoid it altogether? 

No one is immune to critical life events or situations. These experiences happen to everyone. They are a part of our lives, they are human and normal. No one needs to be ashamed if he or she has trouble coming to terms with a specific situation. What we experience as particularly stressful or difficult is different for every human being.

But as Viktor Frankl pointed out, we always have a choice about how we deal with the situations that happen in our lives. According to Frankl, every human being plays an active role in shaping the circumstances of his or her life. We are not passive victims of the things that happen to us.

critical life event is an even that disrupts the current life situation of a person and forces them to find ways of coping with and adjusting to the changes. 

A major stressful event like the current coronavirus pandemic is a classic example of a critical life event. 

When we are faced with such an event, the first thing we need to do is to acknowledge it and then come to terms with it. If our coping strategies are unsuccessful or not successful enough, the critical life event may turn into a crisis. A crisis is the culmination of a developing conflict, and can make you question previous experiences, norms, and values. A crisis is often fraught with fears and perceived as a threat.

A crisis can have many different aspects (political, economic, social, etc.). In the context of our student counselling services, we are focusing on the psychological aspects.


Holzer, Michael; Haselböck, Klaus: Berg und Sinn: Im Nachstieg von Viktor Frankl. Berwelten, 2019

Schlieper-Damrich, Ralph, Netzwerk CoachPro: Krisencoaching. Den Brüchen im Leben kraftvoll trotzen, Bonn: ManagerSeminare Verlags GmbH, 2013

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