Date of Award

8-2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Kelly McDonnell

Second Advisor

Dr. James Croteau

Third Advisor

Dr. Mary Z. Anderson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Kathy Lewis-Ginebaugh

Abstract

Suicidal clients are a reality for both professional and student therapists providing counseling (Chemtob et al., 1988; Dexter-Mazza & Freeman, 2003; Goodman, 1995; Howard, 2000; Jacobson, Ting, Sanders, & Harrington, 2004; Kleespies, Penk, & Forsyth, 1993; Kleespies, Smith, & Becker, 1990; Mackelprang, Karle, & Cash, 2014; McAdams & Foster, 2000). Previous research has investigated the experiences of professional therapists working with suicidal clients, but little is known about student therapists’ experiences with suicidal clients. Only two studies were found investigating the experiences of student therapists working with suicidal clients (Kleespies et al., 1993; Kleespies et al., 1990). However, in the two studies explicitly focusing on student therapists’ experiences with suicidal clients, participants were doctoral students from clinical or counseling psychology programs that were in their pre-doctoral internship. No information was found regarding the experiences of student therapists currently attending a master’s degree program. Further, both studies exploring the experiences of doctoral students working with suicidal clients used a retrospective design. Thus, no information was found about the immediate reactions of student or professional therapists when working with a suicidal client.

The current dissertation aims to add to existing literature by using a phenomenological design and analogue methodology to better understand the immediate reactions of master’s level student therapists to a written vignette of a client’s clinical summary that included a history of suicidal behaviors and a second written vignette of a counseling dialogue with the client that included a discussion of the client’s suicidality. Specifically, this study aims to better understand: (a) what reactions do student therapists have in response to a written clinical summary of a potential client that includes a history of suicidal behaviors?, (b) what reactions do student therapists have when anticipating working with a client that has a history of suicidal behaviors?, and (c) what reactions do student therapists have to a written analogue of a counseling dialogue with a suicidal client?

An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA; Finlay, 2011; Larkin, Watts & Clifton, 2006) approach was used in the current study to analyze data gathered through semi-structured interviews with participants. Participants in this study described a range of complex and sometimes contradictory reactions in response to a written vignette of a client clinical summary that included a history of suicidal behaviors, and a written vignette of a counseling dialogue that included a discussion of the client’s suicidality. Further, findings indicated that these reactions would likely influence participants’ approach to working with a real suicidal client, particularly in regard to hesitancy assessing a client’s suicide risk. Based on findings from the current study, recommendations are made to better inform graduate training in suicide prevention for master’s level student therapists.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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