For Therapists Who Want – or Need – to Improve Their Suicide Prevention Skills

Photo by Anne Davis 773/Creative Commons

Photo by Anne Davis 773/Creative Commons

If you are a psychotherapist, it is likely that your graduate studies included precious little training in suicide prevention. You can get that knowledge in other ways. To name a few:

Practice Guidelines

Several organizations have published guidelines for clinical practice with suicidal individuals. Those practice guidelines contain a wealth of information on topics related to suicide risk assessment, treatment planning, interventions, safety planning, and more:

VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for Assessment and Management of Patients at Risk for Suicide

This clinical practice guideline is from the Veteran’s Administration and Department of Defense, but the content is applicable to all adults. Topics include risk assessment, management of urgent or emergent risk, treatment interventions based on the different levels of risk, safety planning, and continual monitoring and re-assessment.

Working with the Suicidal Person: Clinical Practice Guidelines for Emergency Departments and Mental Health Services

Published by the Victoria (Australia) Department of Health, these guidelines go beyond the standard material on the assessment and management of suicide risk. In addition, they include guidelines related to special populations such as the elderly and the chronically suicidal, aggression in emergency departments, and bereavement services.

American Association for Suicidology Annual Conference

This conference, held every April, consistently features excellent presentations on clinical interventions with clients at risk for suicide, including those with intense suicidal thoughts or a recent suicide attempt. Pre-conference training workshops, lasting from a half day to two days, are especially salient. You usually can find information about upcoming and past conferences at the American Association for Suicidology website

University Courses

Suicide-specific courses are the exception rather than the norm, but they do exist. Check with your local university to see what’s available. 

Continuing Education Courses

Numerous outfits offer continuing education courses, including universities, professional organizations, training institutes, and businesses like PESI.com. Opportunities often come and go, so here I am listing some classes that are offered on a fairly consistent basis:

Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk 

This one day workshop, offered by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, is based on core competencies that are considered essential to assessing and managing suicidality. These competencies include examining one’s attitudes and approach toward suicidal people, understanding suicide, gathering accurate information from the client, formulating the client’s level of suicide risk, developing a treatment plan, documenting the assessment and treatment, and understanding legal issues related to working with suicidal clients.

Recognizing and Responding to Suicide Risk 

This 2-day training is similar to the Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk course  described above, while also expanding on it with experiential exercises and clinical case studies. 

Suicide Risk Assessment

Suicide Risk Management

Treatment with Suicidal Persons

Suicide: DBT Protocol for Assessing and Managing Risk 

The above four courses are offered through Behavioral Tech, LLC,  which was founded by Marsha Linehan, PhD, the developer of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The courses Suicide Risk Assessment and Suicide Risk Management are each 3 hours long. Treatment with Suicidal Persons is 6 hours long. Suicide: DBT Protocol for Assessing and Managing Risk is usually 2 days long.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Depression and Suicidality

This 3-day workshop includes a day of instruction devoted to CBT with suicidal clients. Topics include risk assessment, techniques for preventing and managing suicidal crises, and ethical issues.

Community Training Opportunities

Several groups offer suicide prevention training to lay people, and these trainings also have value for professionals. Here, I describe three particularly well known workshops offered to communities.

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills and Techniques (ASIST)  and SafeTALK 

This 2-day ASIST training covers important, basic skills such as recognizing suicide risk, planning for safety, intervening effectively, tapping into community resources, and avoiding stigma and judgment in work with suicidal people. An added bonus is that many ASIST trainings are subsidized by the groups that offer them; for example, in Colorado some trainings are offered for only $50.

The group that developed ASIST, LivingWorks, also has another training, SafeTALK. This 3-hour class is focused on helping people to “move beyond common tendencies to miss, dismiss or avoid suicide,” recognize people who are thinking of suicide, and connect person with suicidal thoughts to “suicide first aid.” (TALK stands for Tell, Ask, Listen, and Keep Safe.)

To see whether any ASIST or SafeTALK workshops are scheduled near you, check out LivingWork’s Find-A-Training site

QPR Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention

QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) is a course designed for “community gatekeepers” – that is, people who might be in a position to encounter a suicidal person and refer the person to a professional. This 1-hour course may be rudimentary for mental health professionals who are already well versed in risk factors for suicide. The QPR Institute also offers more advanced courses on an online basis, which I describe below.

Online Trainings

You have several options for online training. Some are even free.

QPR Institute 

The one-hour QPR training course is pretty basic for professionals. The advanced courses are better suited to clinical practice. They each take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours to complete (not including the Online Counseling and Suicide Intervention Specialist course, which takes 40 hours):

Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) Online Training 

SPRC offers free, self-paced online courses related to suicide prevention. Right now the courses are designed primarily for administrators, researchers, and policy planners. One course is immediately applicable to practice: Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM).

Zur Institute

This continuing education site offers a self-paced course called Suicide: Strategies for Assessment, Management, and Prevention.

Webinars

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but the Internet contains an amazing amount of free webinars on topics related to suicide prevention, sponsored by various organizations:

Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention 

This center, housed at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has an archive of webinars. Topics include suicide in relation to domestic violence, military and veterans, indigenous communities and middle-aged men, and alcohol abuse. There also is a webinar about non-suicidal self injury.

Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention 

This suicide prevention coalition has sponsored numerous webinars since 2010. The group keeps the webinars (and their transcripts) available to others on the site’s webinar library. Topics include suicide prevention in relation to bullying, veterans, Black youth, transgender communities, schools, older adults, sexual assault survivors, eating disorders, and self injury. Two webinars also address grief and healing after suicide loss.

Centre for Suicide Prevention 

This Canadian organization has an excellent series of webinars centered on the theme “The 5 Things We Wish All Teachers Knew about….” Though targeted at teachers, the webinars contain information that is valuable to anybody who encounters suicidal youth. Topics include “The 5 Things We Wish All Teachers Knew About…”

    • Anxiety Disorders, Depression, and Suicide
    • Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered Youth and Suicide
    • How to Talk to Parents About a Child at Risk of Suicide
    • Substance Use and Suicide
    • Social Media, Contagion and Suicide
    • Self-harm and Suicide

Mental Health Commission of Canada 

This group’s suicide prevention webinar series covers topics such as community suicide prevention, trauma-informed care, injury prevention, and the use of technology (such as apps) in suicide prevention.

Suicide Prevention and Resource Center 

The Research to Practice webinar series contains more than 30 webinars recorded since 2004. Many are oriented toward research, policy, or community suicide prevention, but they still have relevance to clinicians. Webinar topics include a Native community’s successful suicide prevention strategy, suicide prevention in rural primary care settings, alcohol use and suicide, and bullying and suicide.

Books, Books, and More Books

In this site’s Resources section for mental health professionals, I recommend in more depth several books on assessing and treating suicidality. Here is a simple list of those books and many more:

Adolescent Suicide: An Integrated Approach to the Assessment of Risk and Protective Factors, by Peter M. Gutierrez, PhD, and Augustine Osman, PhD

Adolescent Suicide: Assessment and Intervention, by Alan L. Berman, PhD, David A. Jobes, PhD, and Morton M. Silverman, MD

The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Suicide Assessment and Management, by Robert I. Simon, MD, and Robert E. Hales, MD, MBA

The Assessment and Management of Suicidality, by M. David Rudd, PhD

Building a Therapeutic Alliance with the Suicidal Patient, Edited by Konrad Michel, MD, and David A. Jobes, PhD

Clinical Manual for Assessment and Treatment of Suicidal Patients, by John A. Chiles, MD, and Kirk D. Strosahl, PhD

Cognitive Therapy for Suicidal Patients: Scientific and Clinical Applications, by Amy Wenzel, PhD, Gregory K. Brown, PhD, and Aaron T. Beck, MD

Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology, by Ronald W. Maris, PhD, Alan L. Berman, PhD, and Morton M. Silverman, MD

Dialectical Behavior Therapy with Suicidal Adolescents, by Alec L. Miller, PsyD, Jill Rathus, PhD, and Marsha M. Linehan, PhD

Managing Suicidal Risk: A Collaborative Approach, by David A. Jobes, PhD

Myths about Suicide,by Thomas Joiner, PhD

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, by Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD

The Practical Art of Suicide Assessment: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals and Substance Abuse Counselors, by Shawn C. Shea, MD

Preventing Patient Suicide: Clinical Assessment and Management, by Robert I. Simon, MD

The Suicidal Mind, by Edwin S. Shneidman, PhD

The Suicidal Patient: Clinical and Legal Standards of Care, by Bruce Bongar, PhD, and Glenn Sullivan, PhD

Teen Suicide Risk: A Practitioner Guide to Screening, Assessment, and Management, by Cheryl A. King, PhD, Cynthia Ewell Foster, PhD, and Kelly M. Rogalski, MD

Treating Suicidal Behavior: An Effective, Time-Limited Approach, by M. David Rudd, PhD, Thomas Joiner, PhD, and Hasan Rajab, PhD

Why People Die by Suicide, by Thomas Joiner, PhD

What Else?

The list I provide here of ways to improve suicide prevention skills is by no means exhaustive. If you know of an option not listed here that you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment!

© 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com

Related Posts

© Copyright 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide

Leave a Reply

Thank you for your interest in submitting a comment. Please take a look at the site’s comments policy.

2 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. Stacey, thank you so much for sharing these great resources! I will definitely be sharing a link to this post with the therapists I know!

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Thank you, Tamara, for helping to get the word out about ways to improve suicide prevention skills! I appreciate your support.

Top