Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

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Therapists’ Experience of Working with Suicidal Clients

Gabriel Rossouw, Elizabeth Smythe, Peter Greener


This paper is based on a study of therapists’ experiences of working with suicidal clients. Using a hermeneutic-phenomenological methodology informed by Heidegger, the study provides an understanding of the meaning of therapists’ experiences from their perspective as mental health professionals in New Zealand. In this regard, the findings of the study identified three themes: Therapists’ reaction of shock upon learning of the suicide of their client; Therapists’ experience of assessing suicidal clients as a burden; and finally, Therapists’ professional and personal crises as a result of their experiences and struggling to come to terms with events. The study sheds light on how the experiences of therapists whose clients have committed suicide can be understood. The findings show how mainstream prevention and intervention strategies result from the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of our traditional way of knowing what it means to be human. 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 study reveals that therapists experience a profound legacy of guilt, doubt and fear when a client commits suicide. Finally, the study proposes that the time has come for the profession to care for its own in order to allow therapist, in turn to care for (and about) the vulnerable other.

Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, Volume 11, Edition 1, May 2011, 25-36
AJOL African Journals Online