Post from AAS/SPRC Workshop-Thoughts about staying therapeutic

I'm in Ohio this week at a "train the trainer" workshop developed by the American Association for Suicidology (AAS) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). The workshop is called “Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk: Core competencies for mental health professionals.” The training has been excellent so far.

The material focuses a lot on the therapeutic stance and alliance, including some excellent video of a master clinician interviewing a suicidal patient. It reminded me of something I've been emphasizing in the trainings I do: that a good therapist is a good therapist....the skill set is not radically different for the suicidal person. The problem is that many of us have been trained (by formal training or by our anxiety) to go into a some other mode when we encounter a person with suicidal ideation: we throw our best therapeutic skills out the window and become the suicide police. We often deprive people of our best skills because we feel we have to focus on nothing but their immediate safety. It is an unfortunate tendency because in the midst of deperation is when people most need compassion, empathy, and humanity--and a therapist who is as interested as they are in relieving the psychache.

So the challenge in developing and delivering training is to give equal weight to two important messages that are in some tension with one another:

"You must have a knowledge, training, and competencies specific to suicide. You must ask about it, document about it, and pay special attention to it."

and

"Don't get stuck on the suicidality or go into some different interpersonal mode. Compassionately tend to the person, the pain, and the problem, just as you always you."

I think the training today did a good job of striking that balance. I hope my presentations and clinical work do too.