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Behavioral Emergencies Update
Spring 2001

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In this issue...

Section VII Programming at APA Convention

Graduate Student Spotlight

Debate on End-of-Life Issues:

Dr. Yufit Comments on Dr. Werth Interview

Reply to Dr. Yufit

Dr. Kleespies Comments on Yufit-Werth Exchange

New Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide

Publication Highlights

Special Offer for Section VII Members


Graduate Student Spotlight

By Daniel DeBrule, Student Representative-Elect, University of Southern Mississippi


Dr. Lillian 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?

LR: Actually, 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 on suicide.

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 paradigm?

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 writing.

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.

DD: During these studies, what are the precautions that are taken to protect the participants?

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 is chosen.

DD: What are some recommendations you would give to those who often treat suicidal clients?

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?

LR: Unfortunately, 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.

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