The impact of suicide prevention on experienced Irish clinicians

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Moore, Heather
Donohue, Grainne
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The Irish Poet W.B. Yeats coined the famous refrain “All changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born” in his poem “Easter 1916” (as cited in Martin, 1989, p. 176-177). This quote aptly encapsulates the reality of seven experienced Irish psychotherapists who work exclusively in the field of suicide prevention. Emerging research coming from the person-centred and psychodynamic traditions in the past 15 years have examined the traumatic dimension of suicidal behaviour on clinicians. However, there is limited empirical literature on the impact of suicidality on Irish psychotherapists. In Ireland, it is estimated that 500 citizens die by suicide each year, while approximately 11,000 ‘Accidents & Emergency’ admissions are the consequence of suicide attempts. This elicits the question, how does suicide prevention impact Irish mental health professionals who work with these vulnerable populations? In this article, the process of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was applied to the data of clinicians who were “changed, changed utterly” with identity disruption evident in their self, bodies, intimate relationships and professional identity. “A terrible beauty was born” was demonstrated in the overarching theme of the restorative nature of client engagement in the life of the therapist. This was particularly evident in humanistic practitioners, who where acutely aware of their own sublimation of melancholia. Most striking across all seven transcripts was the mix of the corrosive nature of suicide prevention on the self of the therapist, combined with unparalleled opportunities for personal growth and spiritual reformulation. Author keywords: Suicide, vicarious trauma, resilience, burnout, melancholia