How Do You Deal with a Violent Person?

By ACS Distance Education on December 13, 2022 in Psychology | comments

It can be difficult to observe warning signs which predict violence. Case notes, if available, can be helpful and knowledge of any history of violence. Someone who committed a serious violent act in the past is more likely to commit one in the future. An existing psychiatric or medical illness may also increase the likelihood of violence. Other signs include:


  • Is the person intoxicated?
  • Do they have an unusual appearance such as being bloodstained or dishevelled?
  • Do they have a weapon?


  • Are they restless or agitated in some way?
  • Can they control their movements?
  • Are their fists clenched?
  • Do they impose on your personal space?
  • Do they maintain eye contact and have a hostile expression?
  • Do they become increasingly active as they spend time with you?


  • Do they appear distressed, irritable, short-tempered or tense?


  • Are they abusive, sarcastic, or threatening?
  • Are they raising their voice?

How do you feel?
Does a violent person make you feel anxious, uneasy or anxious?

It is important to be aware of these signs as they are happening. They may not be obvious at the onset but can increase in intensity. If a counsellor becomes aware of any of these signs, they might be able to diffuse the situation and prevent a violent outburst from occurring. 



1) Cold Violence
Cold violence is more the domain of the police than for a therapist or member of the public. Cold violence is usually caused by the perception of a power imbalance e.g. “You’re wealthier than me and so I will take your money by threatening you with this knife”

2) Hot Violence
This is violence in response to psychological damage which may result in an urge to retaliate or spread the hurt around. The person may be thinking something along the lines of “You’re going to hurt because I do”. Hot violence could occur as a response to a life event where the individual believes that they have been wrongly treated. Their response can be influenced by drugs, alcohol, availability of a weapon. Other factors could include the individual’s ability to verbalise problems, to empathise with potential victims, their impulse control, or their understanding of violence as a wrongful act.   

3) Reactive Violence
This occurs in response to situational factors. Reactive violence is borne of fear or frustration. An outburst might occur if the room is too hot, there is too much noise in the waiting room, or they are worried about meeting someone new. Reactive violence can be diffused by building rapport with the client and changing the unpleasant environmental factors.

Reactive violence might be possible to diffuse when it has not become uncontrollable.  This might be achieved by providing explanations for situations or other people’s behaviour. If the person resorting to violence cannot be pacified, it may be necessary to bring in help.

Always seek professional help. Tips given here cannot be a substitute for an experienced professional properly assessing the unique situation at hand.

1) Allow the Person to Talk
Try not to interrupt the person unless necessary. If you do interrupt, then do so in a calm and gentle but assured manner.

2) Do Not Turn Your Back on the Person
Avoid direct eye contact but continue to observe the client. Do not walk in front of them and remain far enough away to be out of striking distance.

3) Keep the Escape Route Clear
Unless the violence is pre-meditated or goal-directed then usually the person themselves would rather escape the room than attack you. If they have the means to easily escape i.e. sitting near an unobstructed doorway, then it will prevent them from feeling out of control or threatened.  

However, others suggest that you might be closest to the room door for purpose of escape. Typically, this is the preferred option. The door may be left open or if it has an observation window then others can look in. The ideal solution is a room with two exits so that both you and they can each sit next to one.

4) Modify the Environment
In some situations, other environmental factors can be modified to reduce the likelihood of violent outbursts and the threat to safety. For instance, buzzers placed under the desks in an interview room and at reception can be used to discretely summon help. Other people walking past the room may help diffuse potentially violent situations. Doors which lock from the outside can be used to detain a violent client as well as ensuring that helpers are not locked out. Using a verbal code can notify other members of staff to get help without alarming the violent individual.

Remove any unnecessary items from the room which can be picked up and thrown or used as weapons and remove clothing which could be used to cause injury e.g. scarves, ties, spectacles, necklaces, earrings, before meeting a potentially violent client.

5) Maintain Observations 
Note physiological changes in the person such as reddening of the face, clenching fists, grimaces, voice becoming louder, heavy breathing, narrowing of their gaze, and so forth.

6) Do Not Try To Be Brave
Safety is paramount at all times. Do not try to deal with a violent person by yourself when the violence has escalated – always seek help.

Do not attempt to disarm an armed person. If they claim to have a concealed weapon, or you suspect they do – leave the room at once. If you cannot contain them in a room – inform others, and leave the building with them then call the police.

What if you cannot escape?

  • Remain calm
  • Do not fight with the client
  • Try to get help if possible e.g. telephone, buzzer
  • Maintain a relaxed posture e.g. open hands by each side with palms forward, little eye contact
  • Maintain observations
  • Be prepared to protect self from harm
  • Do what the client says
  • Minimise speech but try to keep the individual speaking rather than acting out their violence
  • If they become calmer suggest they put their weapon down. If they do, leave it in sight until help arrives and do not take it. If help has not been summonsed and they have downed arms, then talk as much as necessary to diffuse the situation.
  • Make use of furniture as a shield if violence occurs.
  • Escape as soon as you can!  

Learn more and understand people better: contact our course counselling team.