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Krylyn Peters Jun 7, 2010

Singing for Suicide

When I was in my graduate school practicum. I worked at a residential substance abuse clinic and had absolutely NO previous counseling experience, aside from role-playing with my classmates. We had to video tape our sessions to review with our supervisors (with written client consent, of course), which added a whole new level of anxiety for me. Two weeks in, I had a client talking about suicide. Luckily, all the hours of study and role-playing kicked in and I was able to do a real risk assessment with a real person. Remember, the video camera is rolling.

Thoughts of suicide? Check. History of suicide attempts? Check. Recent loss of social supports? Check. Means to complete suicide? Check. (Although I never quiet understood how clients with a history of suicide attempts with sharp objects were allowed access to box cutters at this facility.) And finally, the scariest question: intent? CHECK! Remember, I am a practicum student and this is my second counseling session ever. No supervisor on site (that’s a whole different story). No phone in the room. And video camera rolling.

I discussed a plan with my client to get some additional help, but first I had to figure out how to get that help. As luck would have it, several of my fellow students were down the hall. I asked one to come watch my client as I staffed the case with the others. I directed another to call a crisis team and then went back and sat with my client until they arrived. The crisis team came, asked all the same questions I did, and then gave her a list of reasons why she shouldn’t kill herself. As a counselor-in-training with no experience, I sat there and thought two things: 1) either I am an absolute genius because I did basically the same thing as these “seasoned professionals” (except try to guilt this client into living) OR 2) not everyone knows how to deal with clients in crisis.

While I do believe myself to be an intelligent, rational thinking person, it was quite clear to me that the answer fell behind curtain number two. I learned a few things that day, not the least of which was the importance of what to say (or not say) to someone who is contemplating ending their life.

Fast forward a few years after risk assessment has been part of my daily work with clients. I’ve called crisis teams and had clients taken to the hospital for further evaluation and observation. I’ve helped clients develop safety plans and debriefed with them after a suicide attempt and/or hospitalization. I’ve learned that listening, empathy, and validation go a long way in working with suicidal clients.

As I was writing songs for my most recent CD about mental health issues, Into the Fire, it seemed only natural to include a song about suicide. Once the CD was released, I felt compelled to go one step further with the song, so I produced a video that includes statistics on suicide and tips for helping someone who is suicidal, all to the backdrop of my song, “Help Me,” which is told from the perspective of someone who is suicidal.

Please enjoy the video and share the link with colleagues, other professionals, clients and their families, and anyone else you think could benefit. Please follow this link to watch the video:

Krylyn Peters is a counselor and singer/songwriter (aka songwriting therapist™) who uses the power of music and sound for healing.
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