Sept. 11, 2001, the Virginia Tech shooting, the H1N1 outbreak; these are three examples of critical incidents that have derailed the natural life of some college students. This is where the Critical Incident Support Team (CIST) makes its mark.
In an article written in December 2011 for Student Affairs eNews, author Mona Anderson stated, “[CIST is] a structured group meeting or discussion in which individuals are given the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and emotions about a distressing event in a controlled and structured manner.”
CIST consists of counselors, faculty, staff and students of the college. According to Anderson, the assistant director of the Counseling Center at Keene State College, the team has been trained in two areas: psychological first aid and critical incident stress debriefing.
Psychological first aid trains a person to harbor the necessary skills for being with someone after a critical incident.
The skills consist of what to do and say and what not to do and say when they are around a person who has been affected at all by the critical incident.
Anderson added that they also have the skills to recognize whether or not a particular person needs a mental health consultant. This skill set is necessary because some people may not say anything about being affected but they most certainly have the tell tale signs.
Critical incident stress debriefing focuses on the specific protocol the members would use with a group that has been affected by the incident. This is mostly a counseling factor on holding group discussions with members that have been affected by the incident and moderate the discussion.
“People can be affected by a traumatic event but not necessarily need to go to counseling,” Anderson said.
Anyone can be a member of the team but not everyone receives the training, according to Anderson.
She added that everyone does receive the basic training so they are able to act accordingly in a situation where they are needed to come in and help with the counseling aspect.
“The distinct difference between the CIST and the Counseling Center staff is that these are licensed mental health counselors,” Christine Burke said.
Anderson commented, “The CIS team is a teeny-tiny part of that larger picture,” regarding the fact that the CIST is essentially run by the Counseling Center.
The team is brought in in many different ways. According to Anderson, an initial email is sent out to all the members asking who is available. There are roughly fifty people that make up the CIST.
According Burke, the director for the center for Health and Wellness, for an incident to be deemed critical, the incident basically has to derail the day to day functioning of the campus.
Anderson agreed and added, “Any incident where a large number of the Keene State community is affected.”
The team is affiliated with the student body, not necessarily just the campus. If an event happens off campus and a population of students is affected, then the CIST might be called in depending on the situation. The team was called in after the student death on Mt. Monadnock.
Brian Quigley, the director of the Counseling Center is notified of an event that is possibly critical. A lot of events are relayed to Quigley because he is the person who makes the executive decision of whether or not an incident is actually critical.
“It’s always about what are the needs, and how are we going to meet them?” Anderson said.
“The students discovered that they were having normal reactions to an abnormal event, that they weren’t alone, and that there were things they could do to get through it,” Anderson stated in the eNews article.
The team is a sort of breakthrough of sorts in the counseling aspect of life. There aren’t usually that many people that are able to help and that can really assess a certain situation. The team isn’t here to fix anything, they are here as a “shoulder to cry on.”
“We are, after all, a community. Having a structured process, with trained facilitators, creates a way to help our community respond to and cope with events that affect us all,” stated Anderson in the article.
Michael Woodworth can be contacted at