Therapists' experience of working with suicidal clients
Rossouw, Gabriel Johannes
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This study explores therapists' experience of working with suicidal clients. Using a Hermeneutic-phenomenological method informed by Heidegger [1889 – 1976] this study provides an understanding of the meaning of therapists' experiences from their perspective as mental health professionals in New Zealand. Study participants include thirteen therapists working as mental health professionals in District Health Boards from the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and psychiatric nursing. Participants' narratives of their experiences of working with suicidal clients were captured via audio taped interviewing. These stories uncover the everyday realities facing therapists and provide an ontological understanding of their experiences working with suicidal clients in District Health Boards. The findings of this study identified three themes. All the participants experienced shock and surprise upon hearing their clients had committed suicide without presenting with signs and symptoms associated with suicidality in their assessment. All the participants experienced the responsibility of assessing suicidal clients and intervening to be a burden. Further, they suffered from guilt and fear of punishment in the aftermath of a client's suicide. They also found themselves in a professional and personal crisis as a result of their experiences and struggled to come to terms with events. This study has shown how these experiences could be understood by uncovering the perspectives therapists bring to working with suicidal clients. I have shown how mainstream prevention and intervention strategies follow on from the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of our traditional way of knowing what it means to be human. I show when therapists discover that phenomena are not necessarily what they appear to be they feel unsettled and confused about their responsibilities and what it means to live and die as a human being. The experience of being a therapist to a person who commits suicide has been revealed in this thesis to leave a profound legacy of guilt, doubt and fear. This thesis proposes that it may be time for the profession to care for its own that therapists in turn may not shy back from caring for and about the vulnerable other.