Clinician risk

How much should clinicians do to protect suicidal patients – and themselves?

After reading Waking Up: Climbing Through the Darkness, by suicide attempt survivor Terry Wise, clinician and researcher David A. Jobes couldn’t help but wonder how Wise found a therapist as skilled as Dr. Cali Joseph (a pseudonym).


David A. Jobes, PhD, ABPP with The Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

It’s clear from Wise’s account that Dr. Joseph’s commitment, trust and ability to tolerate risks contributed to saving her life. And that the clinician’s empathy, accessibility and tenacity were key in helping Wise “climb through the darkness” and recover from depression and suicidal thoughts that had plagued her for years.

“It’s a real problem for the field,” says Jobes, a professor of psychology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “I train a lot of clinicians, and many of them are like deer in the headlights. They have a defensiveness and wariness of patients who are suicidal.”

That caution is understandable, Jobes admits, given the risks suicidal people pose – to themselves and to practitioners treating them.

“There’s the risk that a clinician may lose the patient in spite of their efforts – and then face the increasingly likely potential of a malpractice lawsuit for having obviously failed to save the patient,” Jobes notes. “Many clinicians won’t extend themselves the way Dr. Joseph did.”

Welcome back, Terri Wise

Widowed at 35, author Terry L. Wise recounts her journey through grief, substance abuse and a near-fatal suicide attempt in her book Waking Up: Climbing Through the Darkness.

Wise is the 2005 recipient of the Lilly Welcome Back Award for Destigmatization. “The committee was moved by your personal story of depression, survival and recovery and noted that your work has had a major impact on many others and must be commended … Your accomplishments are truly inspirational,” writes Helen DelleCave on behalf of Eli Lilly and Company. Wise received the award in Atlanta on May 21, 2005.

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