Suicidality and Intimate Partner Abuse

I just finished an online CEU course  that was probably one of the best I’ve ever taken – “Suicide – What Every Therapist Need to Know”  through Professional Psych Seminars – Lisa Firestone, PhD., instructor. (I have no affiliation with her or PPS). I took this course because suicide risk is something I always assess for and something that I find a significant portion of my clients have struggled with.

I am an LCSW in Santa Rosa, CA and co-founder of NOVA Non-Violent Alternatives. In addition to my private practice, I facilitate two groups for female offenders and one group for male offenders. My special interest is working with women around their violence. (I wrote a book on my treatment approach because there has been so little available about working specifically with abusive women. My book is “Domestic Violence Treatment for Abusive Women – A Treatment Manual”).

I started out working only with men. Our program was certified based on our willingness to be trained at Duluth and follow their model. What an eye-opener it was when I actually got to know the men in our group AND their female partners! I found that women are truly equally capable of intimate partner violence – sometimes as primary aggressors, sometimes as victims and later aggressors, sometimes in mutually aggressive relationships, sometimes as reflections of their own mental illness. etc. (Of course, all of this has since been borne out by formal research). Clearly, domestic violence is not a one-size-fits-all problem.

Now, we do things very differently than when we first started. While we teach cognitive-behavioral skills for emotional regulation, our program is now based on Attachment Theory, Trauma Theory and Social Learning Theory. I aim to find a balance between compassion and holding clients responsible/accountable for their behavior. I’ve found that clients typically have significant histories of childhood trauma, abuse and neglect – so much so that it is not surprising that they would believe that partner abuse is normal and appropriate – and that they have often struggled with suicidal thoughts/attempts.

We now always do a thorough individual assessment before accepting someone into a group.  During these assessment interviews is when I’ve found how often clients have significant histories of suicide attempts, ideation, self-harm, psychiatric hospitalizations, etc.

I am curious to know from other treatment providers whether they have had clients who have attempted or committed suicide while in treatment.