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Suicide is the client crisis most frequently encountered by mental health clinicians (Bongar, 1993; Juhnke, 1994). It has been deemed an "occupational hazard" for students and practitioners in the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology (Chemtob, Bauer, Hamada, Pelowski, & Muraoka, 1989, p.294). Despite the apparent universality of this crisis, no information appears to exist regarding the frequency of suicides among the clients of student and professional counselors. Nor does there appear to be any information available regarding the impact of clients' suicides on counselors professionally and personally. The few studies that have been conducted on the frequency and impact of client suicides have focused almost exclusively on student and professional psychiatrists and psychologists.
Therapists in training may experience a reaction to their client's suicide that is as strong if not stronger than that of their professional counterparts (Brown, 1987b; Kirchberg, & Neimeyer, 1991; Kleespies, Penk, & Forsyth, 1993; Rodolfa, Kraft, & Reilley, 1988). Following the suicide of a client, predoctoral interns in psychology have reported feelings of shock, disbelief, failure, sadness, self-blame, guilt, and shame that were significantly higher than those found in comparable studies of professional psychologists (Kleespies et al., 1993). Two studies involving psychiatric trainees reported responses including frequent feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, and increased fear in dealing with suicidal patients as well as various anniversary reactions to the event (Sacks, Kibel, Cohen, Keats, & Turnquist, 1987; Schnur, & Levin, 1985;). Brown (1987b) reasoned that when a client commits suicide, student therapists are more likely to feel that they have failed as persons than experienced professionals who are better able to separate personal failure from limitations of the therapeutic process. Consequently, the loss of a client to suicide may pose a greater threat to the self-concept of the student therapist than it does to the experienced professional who has a broader base of experience from which to process the event.
- McAdams III, Charles & Victoria Foster; Client suicide: its frequency and impact on counselors; Journal of Mental Health Counseling; April 2000; Vol. 22; Issue 2.
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