edited by Kayla Miriyam Weiner; Binghamton, New York, Haworth Press, Inc., 2005, 108 pages, $19.95 softcover
Dr. Stone is affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, and with the Carson Center for Human Services, Westfield, Massachusetts.
A collection of seven essays, Therapeutic and Legal Issues for Therapists Who Have Survived a Client Suicide addresses the impact of client suicide on the therapist. The goals of the book are to promote discussion of an uncomfortable topic, to point out to providers that they are not alone in having weathered this experience, and to educate therapists about the legal and therapeutic resources available to them.
All of the authors either have a doctoral degree in psychology or were pursuing one at the time of publication. The authors of the final essay, which is concerned with legal issues, have Juris Doctor degrees along with their psychology degrees (one was still in law school when the book was published). Most of the authors work in private-sector settings. Nearly all of the essays recount the personal experience of a therapist who has experienced the death, or near death, of a client by suicide. The cases of the clients are described in detail. Despite the highly personal tone of these essays, the issues addressed have been researched and referenced.
Several themes are repeated in almost every essay. Therapists experience disbelief, anger, guilt, and self-doubt. Personal aspects of the therapist's own nature and experiences influence the impact of and recovery from the suicide. The theme of isolation is repeated in most of the essays. Two essays specifically tackle the experience of trainees and the role of supervisors.
The second-to-last essay, "Touching the Heart and Soul of Therapy: Surviving Client Suicide," addresses almost all of the themes developed in the other essays. Pam Rycroft, the author of this essay, speaks to the nowpredictable occurrence of the stages of grief. She talks about the impact of the suicide on her professional identity and choices. She writes about the conflict of determining what she wants to do with respect to her own recovery. Should she contact the family, attend the funeral, and express grief? Does she want to do this only for her own benefit? Does that make it wrong? Different therapeutic models provide conflicting attitudes. Although peer support is frequently underscored as essential to recovery throughout the book, Rycroft points out the conflicting weight of judgment, both direct and feared, from colleagues.
The final chapter, "Suicide and the Law: A Practical Overview for Mental Health Professionals," provides little information that would be new to most clinicians. It does, however, present one of the more practical delineations of risk assessment that I have encountered.
Dr. Weiner has provided a resource for most clinicians. It is likely to be of greatest value to practitioners working in relatively isolated settings or practitioners without a group of peers who are likely to be supportive. It serves as a reminder that "bad things happen" and that therapists are people, too.