For Mental Health Professionals

Cognitive Therapy for Suicidal Patients: Scientific and Clinical Applications

By A. Wenzel, PhD, G.K. Brown, PhD, & A.T. Beck, MD

Cognitive therapy (also called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT) is one of only a few treatments that has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing suicide risk and attempts. This book describes in specific detail the cognitive therapy techniques that have helped reduced suicide attempts.

The Practical Art of Suicide Assessment: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals and Substance Use Counselors

By Shawn C. Shea, MD

This book should be required reading not only for students, but also for mental health professionals at all levels of experience. As I explain in a separate post, it describes techniques to help assess a person’s suicidal thoughts and intent. It also provides extensive information, in a highly readable, non-academic style, about suicide, its stigma, and its possible causes, while also delving into the specifics of suicide risk documentation and decision making.

Preventing Patient Suicide: Clinical Assessment and Management

By R.I. Simon, MD

The author may well be the foremost authority on the legal aspects of psychotherapy with suicidal clients, in particular the risk for malpractice lawsuits following a client’s suicide. He provides good, sound advice in this book for managing suicide risk and providing competent care. He states his positions forthrightly; in fact, he approaches sacrilege when criticizing commonly held notions in suicide risk assessment. For example, he asserts that suicide risk assessment forms encourage clinical lassitude and increase malpractice risk. And he argues that clinicians are practicing unethically when they do not provide after-hours coverage for emergencies and instead refer a patient to call 911 or go to an emergency room in the event of an emergency. All the while, he bases his arguments on prior legal cases and case histories. 

Suicide as Psychache

By Edwin Shneidman, PhD

In this book, the author (considered the “grandfather” of modern suicidology) focuses on psychological pain as the cause of suicide. Of course, this seems obvious, but in reality, much of the literature about suicide over the last few decades has focused on biological, sociological, and psychiatric risk factors for suicide, looking at statistics instead of individuals’ personal accounts of their pain. Shneidman elucidates this pain intensely, and argues that the only way to really prevent a person’s suicide is to fundamentally understand that person’s pain and to help reduce it.

Treating Suicidal Behavior: An Effective, Time-Limited Approach

 By M. David Rudd, PhD, Thomas Joiner, PhD, and M. Hasan Rajab, PhD

Cognitive behavioral therapy has demonstrated effectiveness at treating depression and suicidality. This book describes, in extensive detail, one CBT approach to helping suicidal clients. Topics go beyond the standard fare of theory, risk factors, and risk assessment. The material has immediate relevance to clinical practice, with information on crisis intervention, symptom management, cognitive restructuring (the book titles this section “Changing the suicidal belief system and building a philosophy for living”), and skills training.

Why People Die by Suicide

By Thomas Joiner, PhD

This book by a renowned suicidologist, whose father died by suicide, describes the author’s prominent theory of suicide causation, the Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide. Joiner provides evidence that key characteristics must co-exist for a person to die by suicide: 1) They perceive that they are a burden to their loved ones; 2) They experience, or perceive they experience, extreme alienation; and 3) They have become habituated in some way to physical pain or life-threatening situations, making suicide seem less frightening and formidable to them. The first two factors combine to create a desire for death, and the habituation to pain or danger enables the ability to die by suicide.

Danielle Spires