An exploration of the impact of completed client suicide on a psychotherapist

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Creighan, Emma
Issue Date
Higher Diploma in Arts in Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Globally, suicide is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. It is a profoundly disturbing event for all affected, including the psychotherapist. In this paper, the author seeks to explore the consequences of such an event on the psychotherapist. The psychotherapists grief can be complex. They are not mourning a friend or family member, however, the psychotherapeutic relationship can foster deep connections between the client and the psychotherapist. Studies have shown that the psychotherapist may experience feelings of grief, anger and guilt. They react initially, in much the same was as family and friends of the deceased. However, they may simultaneously experience a professional reaction to a clients completed suicide which may result in feelings of self doubt and inadequacy. In addition, their grief may be disenfranchised which can further complicate the healing process. Following a completed client suicide, the psychotherapists current and future therapeutic relationships may be affected. A psychotherapist may be fearful of experiencing a second client suicide and therefore, adjust their practice accordingly. Countertransference issues may arise, and have the potential to impact considerably, the efficacy of the psychotherapeutic relationship. Most concerning however, is the lack of literature and studies describing any indications that the psychotherapist is ready to resume their practice with clients. Similarly, the literature also highlights a lack of concrete coping mechanisms for the psychotherapist in the wake of a completed client suicide. While some coping mechanisms have been identified, and certainly play a role in sustaining the psychotherapist, it appears that further research in this area may be needed.