I recently attended a training by PODS, an organization delivering help for those with dissociative identity disorders. It was delivered by Carolyn Spring, one who had had lived experience with suicide herself.
This training was about how one could help those who were suicidal or self-harming. It raised several salient points that I thought I should share in this particular blog post.
The start of the training started heavily with what suicide actually felt like.
What were the emotions they felt?
1. See suicide/ self-harm as a cry for help.
Too often, we see suicide or self-harm as a problem. But we can begin to see it instead as a way that people are trying to find release from their pain. This means that deep down, they are still trying. They are not hopeless.
But too often, our immediate response is to place them in immediate lockdown. We initiate Section 2/3 orders to detain them under the Mental Health Act, supposedly ‘for their own safety’. Safety no longer feels safe or comforting. Instead of freedom from their pain, they are instead locked in a ward, where they have little freedom.
We need to transform our approach to helping them.
2. Focus on being
Too often, we seem to freak out when someone tells us that they are suicidal. What do we do? What do we do? We cry, desperate for someone to take this burden off our incapable shoulders. However, being calm ourselves, and focusing on being, rather than what we can do, is crucial. Carolyn shared about how we ourselves have to be in the ‘green’ zone when we are with the client. We need to centre ourselves, relax, and make sure that we are with the client, instead of stuck in a world of anxiety about what will happen to the client after we are gone.
3. Say ‘I am on your side.’
We often think we are doing the right thing by ‘sectioning’ people for their own safety, but how many of us truly believe that works for the good of the client? We need to build trust with our clients, showing them that we are committed to reducing their distress, not only in word, but in action as well. We must also believe in them. Too many times, our empathy becomes sympathy, and we end up thinking ‘yes, it’s true, how can they recover from that?’ Carolyn gave a useful document on what clients would like to hear during their darkest hour. I share it here so that you are helped by it as well.
4. Give responsibility to the client.
As far as we are responsible to the client, we are not responsible for the client. The client ultimately has the responsibility for improving his/her situation. If they are going to mop around in self-pity, not even the best therapist can help them. Carolyn shared that her therapist only gave her 6 sessions, and it would be extended based on her commitment. As therapists, we cannot merely take the burden of wanting change. You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink.
Suicide is not a hopeless situation. As Carolyn said, as long as they are not dead, there is still hope. Suicide is a cry for help, and we cannot mistake that cry as just another reason to ‘section’ them. Ultimately, we must remember – we are on our client’s side. It’s not just about covering our backs so we don’t get blamed.