Case Study


Case Study

In the Aftermath of Suicide: The Long Journey to Healing

By Rita Schulte

May/June 2019


Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a hot topic in today’s therapy world, a catchall that many clinicians use to describe a client’s potential for resiliency after a traumatic event. I see this as a positive trend in a field that’s historically been focused on helping people cope with tragedy, instead of grow from it. But while PTG is a great concept, in our enthusiasm to help clients tap into their strengths and heal in a way that opens new doors for possibility, many of us forget how difficult—and therapeutic—it can be just to sit with their clients’ pain. After all, you can’t plant even the smallest seeds of PTG without being able to walk alongside clients in their darkest times, offer compassionate presence, and demonstrate patience and nonjudgment.

Having lost my husband to suicide, I’m particularly aware of how often therapists, despite their best intentions, get caught up in the “fixing” mentality and don’t work to acknowledge the pain that accompanies this type of traumatic loss. Even now, I can still drop into the moment when I round the staircase, walk into our bedroom, and find that my beloved husband had taken his life. Moments like these rearrange a person’s world. So when I sit with clients whose hearts are hemorrhaging in grief, whose core beliefs about life, God, and the world around them have all come into question, I want to offer more than a set of therapeutic tools to foster resiliency: I want to listen to their stories in a way that acknowledges…

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2 Comments

Monday, September 23, 2019 12:54:32 PM | posted by Robert Lewis
Very meaningful case study about what is really a national crisis in mental health, suicides. I am a licensed mental health provider and also a bereavement support group facilitator with the Children's Grief Center of New Mexico. The support group is not therapy and I co-facilitate a men's group, working with the fathers. Men grieve differently than woman so the Grief Center established a group specifically for the dads. The men share openly about their loss and we have men in the group who have been touched by suicide. These men, or most all have not had any traditional therapy yet because of their willingness to openly share with each other the group is profound. PTG definitely is a process we see in our group. The men begin to slowly work through stages of grief in no particular order and the other men simple are witnesses to their pain. Support groups are powerful and bearing witness or simply abiding with others who share their stories without trying to fix them has a healing effect over time. I loved what was said in the case study that grief may never get smaller but your world gets bigger as you begin to heal and the narrative changes. Going down the rabbit hole of why questions and guilt is never helpful and the men slowly begin to realize this and that they were not responsible for the death, a difficult truth to accept. Thank you for this study. I will use some of this wisdom in the group we facilitate. - Robert Lewis, LMFT

Thursday, June 13, 2019 9:38:35 AM | posted by Ada Brosier
Thank you for sharing this. I immensely enjoyed reading this case study and commentary. As a trauma survivor/therapist myself working with trauma survivors with complicated grief and compassion fatigue, everything here hit home and was relatable. Professionally and personally, I believe "Fostering self compassion" is one of the most significant and most challenging aspect of recovery, resilience and PTG. Jesse's story and responses are very common in my clients seen in private practice. As therapists, we are amazing at creating a safe container and space for our clients to process their pain, anguish and suffering. This served as an important reminder that it's just as important to refrain and move away from the "fixing mentality" and acknowledge and validate any pain and especially post traumatic loss.