Therapy for Suicidal Thoughts
Suicide and suicidal thoughts are difficult for individuals to talk about, and can be devastating and destructive if they are not treated or addressed. Suicidal ideation is the medical term for having thoughts about suicide, whether they are passive or active thoughts and feelings. Suicidal thoughts likely stem from mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
There are many reasons why someone may be having suicidal thoughts. An individual could be experiencing difficult life circumstances such as life-altering events or losing a loved one. An individual could also be undergoing difficulties with their mental health that causes them to feel hurt, overwhelmed, or helpless. Or, someone may be buried in hardships that make them feel hopeless for the future.
The bottom line is thoughts of self-harm and suicide should not be overlooked. They are typically a symptom of an underlying treatable mental health issue, whether an individual is aware of the mental health issure or not. The good news is suicidal thoughts therapy is available for all individuals.
The Prevalence and Risk of Suicidal Thoughts
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 12 million Americans had suicidal thoughts, and about 3.2 million tried to carry out those suicidal ideations. In that same year (2020), suicide was among the top 9 leading causes of death for people ages 10-64. Suicide is a serious public health issue that is preventable and treatable with the right comprehensive approach.
What is the Best Therapy for Suicidal Thoughts?
For anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts, therapy is one of the most effective treatments because of its connection to mental health disorders. There are many different types of therapy for suicidal thoughts that we’ll walk through below.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) combines “talk therapy” and “behavioral therapy.” It focuses on negative thinking patterns and reframes them, resulting in positive actions and outcomes. Its underlying goal is to help people to solve the problem they are facing to improve thought patterns. The destructive thoughts that come from suicidal ideation stem from mental disorders and can lead to destructive behavior. Effective treatment with CBT works to help people to see the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors, especially the behaviors that follow those thought patterns.
CBT isn’t a simple “cure” for a mental health condition. However, it can provide individuals with the ability to see what is happening and, in some cases, stop taking negative action. This is what the steps in CBT might look like for someone:
- Identify the troubling situation or the conditions that trigger the individual and make life difficult. These include anger, grief, a medical condition, symptoms of a mental illness, financial trouble, relationship trouble, etc.
- Become aware of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that occur because of these problems
- Learn to identify negative or inaccurate thinking, including physical, emotional and behavioral responses that occur when a situation arises
- Begin to reshape those moments of inaccurate thinking, for example one could question whether the view of the situation at that moment is accurate. This is the longest and most difficult step, but with practice and patience, it’s possible to reverse thinking away from negative emotions.
With CBT, the individual acknowledges that they will continue to have stressors and issues that might affect their mental state, but with effective coping skills, they can avoid being automatically triggered into suicidal thoughts.
2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches individuals the skills to cope with, and change unhealthy behaviors. The term “dialectical” comes from the idea that bringing together two opposites in therapy – acceptance and change – brings better results than either one alone. As its name suggests, DBT is influenced by the philosophical perspective of dialectics: balancing opposites. Standard comprehensive DBT generally has four parts:
- Individual therapy: in individual therapy sessions, the person will identify the issues that trigger their suicidal thoughts and identify the problem-solving behavior they need to engage in instead.
- Group skills training: in addition to individual sessions, individuals will come together in a group setting to discuss current issues and solutions with a DBT therapist who can help to facilitate the discussion on four main ideas: interpersonal relations, acceptance skills, emotional regulation, and mindfulness.
- Phone coaching: the primary therapist is available by phone in between sessions if the individual needs additional guidance in their everyday life.
- Consultation group: a group of DBT providers will work together to ensure effective and successful treatment of the individual.
With DBT suicidal therapy, the individual can master detachment from suicidal thoughts and feelings from afar. It’s like standing away from it and looking without being involved in the thought. They’re better able to objectively identify that it’s not them talking, it’s their depression, PTSD, stress, or other condition that’s speaking.
Non-invasive neurotherapy is an innovative treatment approach that helps people make changes in their brainwave activity to modify certain behaviors and reduce impulsivity – even suicidal thoughts. Neurotherapy is essentially based on the idea that the thoughts, feelings, and actions we take are based to some extent on physiological functioning.
Neurotherapy is effective in treating individuals who have depression, substance abuse disorders, and other mental health disorders. Throughout the neurotherapy process, therapists help individuals learn how to change their brainwave activity and, in doing so, change thought patterns and behaviors. During sessions, therapists help clients practice maintaining their learned brainwave states. Neurotherapy includes biofeedback, vibrational, and electrical stimulation approaches that help in the brain’s neural repair process. Each of these modes of therapy seeks to help rewire brain circuits to improve or restore normal brain function.
- Neuron healing: In the case of brain injury or damage, neurotherapy seeks to heal damaged brain cells.
- Neurostimulation: Stimulation such as that of electroconvulsive therapy can help revive inactive circuits or regions of the brain that need to regain function to improve brain performance.
- Neuromodulation: Neurotherapy uses neurostimulation, sometimes with neurofeedback, to help modulate the activity in the brain or other regions of the nervous system in response to signals.
Neurotherapy works by teaching individuals to produce beneficial electroencephalogram (EEG) patterns. During a session, the patient’s brain waves are collected by EEG sensors or electrodes. The detectors are placed superficially along the scalp and attached to a computer. The electrical pulses produced by the brain are used to operate a simple computer game. Through this method, patients learn how to control and play the simulated game.
Though the therapy looks like a computer game, it helps individuals change the patterns in their minds. They learn to regulate and improve their brain function by playing and responding to positive feedback. By improving brain function, individuals respond better to overwhelming emotions, even the ones that come from suicidal ideation.
4. Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality
Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) is a flexible therapeutic framework specifically made for suicide assessment and treatment of a patient’s suicidal risk. The clinician and individual engage in a highly interactive assessment process and the patient is actively involved in the development of their treatment plan. CAMS requires complete transparency between the therapist and the individual – every session intentionally utilizes the patient’s input about what is and is not working so that they can best receive care for the suicidal ideation they are experiencing.
Remedies and Relief
There are treatments outside of clinical therapy and medication that can help those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. These are not primary interventions but can be utilized in addition to clinical treatments.
- Meditation: the calm and peace you feel from meditating can help in improving focus and concentration, and thus lower levels of stress and anxiety.
- Yoga: the incorporation of breathing practices with meditation will help to calm and center the mind and has been shown to lower stress hormones in the body.
- Physical activity: along with its physical benefits, exercise has a profound impact on mental health as well. Physical activity releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that can improve your mood.
Awareness and Prevention
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation, help and treatment must be offered right away. Please seek immediate help by calling 911, a local emergency phone number or crisis hotline, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).
Anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts may feel it difficult to express their feelings to anyone. They may think of themselves as a burden to someone if they confide in them. Always extend support to anyone who may be experiencing suicidal ideation, and make sure they have access to the resources they need. Validate their feelings and let them know you are there for them. If the situation isn’t imminent, a doctor can provide a referral to professional suicide therapy or counseling for suicidal thoughts.
At The Phoenix Recovery Center, there is therapy available to treat anyone experiencing suicidal ideation. Counseling for suicidal thoughts is an important part of inpatient depression treatment, anxiety treatment, PTSD recovery, and eating disorders. Our psychiatrists, and therapists are available to offer both medical and therapeutical help for individuals suffering with suicidal thoughts. Interested in our services? Call us today to get started.
If you or a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts, our psychiatrists and therapists are here to help.
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