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Behavioral Emergencies Update
spring 2000

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In this issue...

Section VII Programming at APA Convention

Training Providers of Emergency Services for Children in Violence Prevention

News from the American Association of Suicidology Conference

The Critical Need for Valid and Reliable Assessment

Volunteer Opportunities at the APA Convention

Graduate Student Spotlight

Section VII Election Results

Special Offer for Section VII Members

Graduate Student Spotlight
Co-Editors: Matthew K. Nock (Yale University) & Jason Spiegelman (University of Akron)

Dr. Alan (Lanny) Berman is currently the Executive Director of the American Association of Suicidology. He is an internationally recognized author and suicidologist, and has collaborated on a number of works with the world's leading scholars in the arena of suicide studies. I (JS) had the opportunity to see Dr. Berman at the recent convention of AAS in Los Angeles, and he graciously agreed to take some time to discuss the links between AAS and Section VII.

 

JS: The newest Section of Division 12 dealing with Clinical Emergencies and Crises (Section VII) has been active for approximately one year. Many of the officers and members are also members of AAS. As executive director of AAS, have you noticed any overlap between the functions of AAS and Section VII? If so, has this been a good thing?

LB: Suicidology, and suicide prevention, are not issues for proprietary ownership. We all have a stake in helping people find meaning in life and living life well. I see a great deal of overlap between the mission and goals of AAS and the APA's Division 12, Section VII and welcome our collaborative efforts. I hope the Section will attract many more APA members over time, so we can increase the strength of our joint efforts. Overlap between the Section and AAS is not a good thing; it is great!

JS: Dr. Phil Kleespies, AAS member and Section VII president, recently presented Dr. Edwin Shneidman with the first ever Section VII Lifetime Achievement Award. What was it like for you to witness that presentation, given your long association with the association that Dr. Shneidman founded?

LB: Ed Shneidman is an icon, mentor, role model, and friend. He has served as a beacon for many of us drawn, as a tropism, to his intellectual leadership and stimulation. I speak to Ed with some frequency during the year and saw him on my last trip to Los Angeles a few months ago, so I have not been that starved by lack of contact. But, for the Association's members, many of whom have never seen or heard him, seeing him at the AAS Annual Meeting was a momentous opportunity. To have Dr. Kleespies present him with the Section's Lifetime Achievement Award was a crowning experience to a keynote event that will long be remembered by all of us who were there to witness it.

JS: AAS has recently redoubled its efforts to focus on the needs of its student membership. What do you see as the benefits of student participation in both AAS and Section VII, given that the two serve some diverging functions (AAS focusing on suicide and survivors' issues, and Section VII looking at the immediacy of clinical emergencies and crises)?

LB: First and foremost, the AAS is a membership organization of those sharing common interests. Second, we have a mission to accomplish and that mission requires us to stimulate and replenish the field with a new generation of researchers and caregivers with an investment in understanding suicide in order to intervene effectively. Thus, we must nurture our younger suicidologists, better link them to mentors, and reinforce their long-term investment in this field.

 

Although there are a number of clinical researchers (translate this to mean psychologists) in the field, there are painfully few suicidologists in academic positions able to sire that new generation. I can count on one hand the number of psychologist-suicidologists in academic institutions who teach more than a lecture on suicide, e.g., a seminar or a course. Therefore, I do not believe that psychologists are being well-enough trained in basic suicidology, nor in what needs to be known about clinical interventions (emergency and long-term) with, and assessment of, at-risk patients. Too often, this function is being performed by clinicians in clinical settings who pass on clinical lore without appeal to empirical support for what they do (figuratively these are the blind leading the blind). I see changing this state of affairs as a joint AAS-Section VII goal and am eager to accompany Dr. Kleespies to meetings with the powers that be at the APA to urge their long-term commitment to strategies to change this. This is where we overlap and collaborate, rather than diverge.

JS: If you could give one piece of advice to current students focusing on the wide field of crisis intervention, whether they specialize in client suicidality or incidences of violence, what would it be? How would you like today's students to learn from your long career in this area?

LB: I can think of no more significant and rewarding a specialty to spend one's career in than that of understanding the suicidal and self-destructive mind well-enough to be able to successfully intervene, under conditions of high drama, and move an at-risk person off the figurative ledge and on to stable ground. The rewards of this work have been as much for me as, I trust, for those I have helped. My work has never been motivated by pure altruism, although I have a public interest gene somewhere in my DNA; rather, my work has been my passion because it has so many moments of curiosity satisfied, of questions yet-to-be answered, and of excitement beyond measure. I simply need to impart to any student the thrill I get each day that I go to my work, and trust that student to do what comes naturally, in order to feel fulfilled as a teacher.

JS: Dr. Berman, thank you for taking the time to acquaint our members who are not already affiliated with AAS with some of your thoughts.

LB: You're welcome.