Range has been a Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi
for over 10 years, and is Secretary of Section VII. She is currently
involved in research dealing with the effects of writing about traumatic
experiences, and has published widely on the topic of suicide. Daniel
DeBrule is a first year graduate student on Dr. Rangeís team, and
is the Student Representative-Elect of Section VII.
DD: First of
all, why did you choose suicide to be your main focus of research?
suicide was not my initial field of research. In the early 1980ís,
I read an article by Dr. Lawrence G. Calhoun and Dr. James W. Selby
that dealt with the social perception of suicide. I found it to
be very fascinating, and since then I have authored several articles
DD: What factors
make it difficult to conduct research on suicide?
LR: Well, clearly
one must be very cautious in dealing with potentially suicidal participants.
In addition, unlike most areas of research where you can ask those
who are ill vital questions, one doesnít have this opportunity with
those who have committed suicide.
DD: Why have
you recently opted to conduct research that involves the writing
LR: It seems
to me to be an intervention that can be easily applied, yet has
been shown to be very effective. The notion is that people can simply
write about what troubles them, and show improvements in various
ways. There has not been much research in the area of crisis and
writing. However, it has been shown that those who exhibit high
amounts of disclosure are more likely to yield great benefits from
DD: Is there
any evidence to suggest that writing may lead to better functioning
in those who are in the aftermath of a crisis, as opposed to those
who are currently in a crisis?
LR: This is
perhaps a question that future research can address. For example,
we have completed a study that looked at those who have bereaved
the loss of a loved one in the past two years. There may be more
of an effect in those who have lost a loved one fifteen years ago,
but we donít know that.
DD: Could you
describe the results from the research that you have supervised
that utilizes suicide measures and the writing process?
LR: So far,
the results have been fairly disappointing in the studies we have
done that involve participants with suicidal ideation or that have
bereaved a suicidal death. A significant difference will occur for
those who write about a traumatic as opposed to trivial topic on
certain other measures, but significance on the suicide measures
have approached significance.
DD: What do
you think is most responsible for these results?
LR: I think
that the main explanation lies in the instruments used. Most of
the instruments we have used measure suicidal ideation over a long
period of time or over the life span. We need a suicide measure
that gauges short-term suicidal ideation and perhaps changes in
suicidal thought that occurs within a brief time frame. Such a measure
would be more sensitive to detecting the changes in suicidal thought
that occur when we use the writing paradigm. Of course, there is
a lack of measures such as these.
these studies, what are the precautions that are taken to protect
LR: Well, we
do several things. We examine their writing samples to make sure
they are not exhibiting suicidal or homicidal ideation, provide
them with a list of various psychotherapists that they can contact,
and offer them free therapy. In addition, we assure confidentiality
through assigning numerical codes to the writing samples and also
speak with them directly after the writing is done to see if they
are upset at the moment. If they are, we give them the option of
discussing their experience with a counselor directly afterwards,
so that they donít have to wait for a scheduled appointment. We
also ask explicitly on a post-writing form if they feel like talking
to someone, if they feel like hurting themselves, or if they feel
extremely disturbed. If they check yes to any of these questions,
a researcher discusses these issues and the proper course of action
DD: What are
some recommendations you would give to those who often treat suicidal
LR: When you
are aiding someone who is suicidal it can be a crisis for them but
also a crisis for you as well. I think one recommendation may be
to consult as much as possible with other professionals, as a suicidal
case may call for this based on the complexity.
DD: You mentioned
that treating the suicidal may also constitute a crisis for the
provider. What can help psychologists in dealing professionally
and personally with the strain of handling emergencies such as this?
LR: Many books
have been written on this topic that probably address this question
very well; however, I would say that it is important to establish
some kind of social network to rely on.
DD: What can
graduate students who are interested in handling behavioral emergencies
do in order to better prepare themselves for this type of work?
most graduate programs do not have many opportunities such as this.
Therefore, the student must be proactive. My best advice would be
to seek out situations where one can gain the clinical experience
of working with those in a crisis.
DD: Thank you
for taking the time to share your expertise with our readers.