Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Taking the Fear out of Suicide Assessment and Intervention: A Pedagogical and Humanistic Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Taking the Fear out of Suicide Assessment and Intervention: A Pedagogical and Humanistic Practice

Article excerpt

This article provides ideas for teaching suicide assessment and intervention according to differing student learning styles and preferences. The authors discuss how considering the learning styles and uniqueness of counselors-in-training while assessing the complexity of suicidality can contribute to the literature on humanism and lead to more effective counselor instruction.


"Suicide is no doubt one of the ultimate tragedies faced by the mental health treatment community" (Bonner, 1990, p. 232). In fact, counseling suicidal clients could be considered an occupational hazard that provokes the most fear from clinicians (Deutsch, 1984). Counselors could become emotionally paralyzed; have difficulty making sound clinical judgments; and develop anger, guilt, grief (Hendin, Lipschitz, Maltsberger, Haas, & Wynecoop, 2000), and a hypersensitivity to legal issues and suicidal cues when a client completes suicide (McAdams & Foster, 2000). Suicide is the most frequent client crisis that mental health professionals face (Beutler, Clarkin, & Bongar, 2000; McAdams & Foster, 2000). Researchers have found that 11% to 51% of students preparing to be mental health clinicians have experienced suicidal clients during their training programs (Chemtob, Hamada, Bauer, Kinney, & Torigoe, 1998; Ellis & Dickey, 1998; Foster & McAdams, 1999; Kleespies, 1993).

It is unlikely that negative feelings and behaviors associated with working with suicidal clients can be extinguished in their entirety. However, the more prepared counselors-in-training are to work with suicidal clients, the more likely they are to be equipped to handle the situation efficiently, both personally and professionally. To more effectively prepare counselors-in-training, counselor educators may include core opportunities to learn about suicide assessment and intervention techniques and practices within the curriculum (McGlothlin, 2008). Little literature has specifically addressed methods of incorporating skills and knowledge of suicide assessment and intervention in counselor education. Therefore, we present ideas based on David A. Kolb's (1984) cycle of experiential learning to teach suicide assessment and intervention in counselor education programs.

D. A. Kolb's (1984) model addresses learners' preferences regarding knowledge acquisition (e.g., through direct experiences or information analysis) and transformation of acquired knowledge into something useful (e.g., reflecting on acquired knowledge or practically applying acquired knowledge). The model also provides a way to introduce information that attends to learner preference, increasing comfort surrounding the introduction of new material. It is our hope that through the ideas presented in our article, counselor educators will consider strategies that will allow for the meaningful placement of suicide assessment and intervention knowledge and practice in counseling courses and counseling programs. We anticipate that counselor educators will use their creativity when incorporating our ideas to allow students and counselors-in-training to take from the instruction of suicide assessment and intervention what will be most helpful in their current and future situations. Additionally, through the use of Kolb's cycle of learning, we hope to help ease the anxiety and fear associated with discussions regarding suicide and thus increase preparation of students and counselors-in-training.

The notion of providing curricular experiences that cater uniquely to the needs of students' growth and development, "relating to human beings in growth-producing ways" (Bohart, 2003, p. 107), is a critical component of humanism. Assessment and treatment of suicidal clients, though often associated with high levels of student fear and anxiety, can be appreciated if humanistic characteristics are considered (Davis, Chang, & McGlothlin, 2005). Throughout the remainder of this article, we incorporate the humanistic concepts of creativity, holism, sense of purpose (Raskin, Rogers, & Witty, 2008), dignity, diversity, and the belief that people can choose their goals and approaches to accomplish them (Cain, 2001). …

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