Shneidman’s greatest questions: Where do you hurt and How can I help?
After I had a meltdown in late 2005 and was slowly recovering in 2006, I was taking a psychometrics class at college to earn my psychology degree. Psychometrics is a fancy name for psychological testing and validating tests and assessments on various things. As I was recovering from a deep suicidal depression, I was curious to see if there were any measures on psychological pain in suicide. I wrote my first draft of the term paper with 20 some odd articles all doing various risk assessments and testing of suicide ideation but none of them dealt with psychological pain, which was what I was aiming for.
The professor tore my first draft apart and even, however vaguely, accused me of plagiarism. I wanted to get a good grade in this class because it would help my further advancement in psychology. I went back to the drawing board. I searched for pain and psychological pain in the library databank. About only 5 articles showed up, at the time. I am sure I was doing it wrong. I looked up the articles and found Shneidman and Holden. Dr. Holden was based out of Queen’s University in Canada. He came up with a psychache assessment that I found useful in my therapy. I kept that article and shared it with my therapist. Then I queried everything on Shneidman and hit the jackpot. His work was in psychache, psychological pain. I read everything I could on him and his followers. I saw my idol David Jobes’s early work on the Suicide Status Form. It wasn’t appealing to me at that time. I was more interested in the psychache of the matter.
I read Dr. Shneidman’s book, The Suicidal Mind. Holy crap! This was about “me”. I knew I had to read everything this guy wrote but it measured in the hundreds so I focused on what was available now. I tried to read his books that were solely written by him but they were few and outdated. He wrote many chapters. The two questions that I kept coming across were “where do you hurt” and “How can I help?” No one had ever asked me those questions all my years in therapy. Not even my current therapist at the time asked until I brought it up to her.
These questions were the basis of how he helped suicidal people over his career. He brought them other options for suicide by learning things about their predicament. Then he ranked them in order of importance. As he slowly worked with them, suicide became less of an option on the list, which was good. It didn’t mean their risk of attempting was any lower but they could see that it wasn’t something that had to do right then and there as there were other options. That is what suicide prevention is, finding other solutions to the problems someone is facing other than suicide. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There was a case in which Shneidman talked to a Hispanic male who attempted suicide by gun shot. He blew off half his face and needed multiple surgeries and was in intense pain from his injuries. Dr. Shneidman counseled this man until he was well enough to leave the hospital. They kept in touch but as time went on, the contact got fewer and fewer. The young man died by suicide by that method a few years later. It was a sad case. The importance of the story is that contact is useful even after the initial attempt has passed, be it with postcard or phone calls or text messages. This isn’t an entire protective factor but it can be. Some people who think of suicide and even go to plan it, get through their circumstances never to think about it again. Others make an attempt and it is a kind of “wake up” call and they never think about doing something like that again. Then you have the people that are chronically suicidal, who make multiple attempts. These are the people most at risk of ending their lives by their own hand. It is these people that need the most help and patience. This is where the framework CAMS (Collaborating, Assessment, and Managing Suicidality) comes in handy. Check out their website https://cams-care.com/?pgnc=1