Cognitive Therapy That Improves Problem Solving Reduces Risk for Suicide

Individuals who attempt suicide once are likely to attempt it again. The rate of repeat attempts is highest in the first 6 months after the initial attempt, but the risk continues unless the root of the psychological stress is addressed. People attempt suicide because they often see it as the only way to cope with overwhelming emotional pain or trauma. They may not be able to see any other solution to their problem and can feel trapped in a state of hopelessness. This fundamental lack of problem-solving skills is not uncommon in individuals with a history of suicide attempts. In fact, existing research suggests that individuals with a history of suicide attempts are less able to solve interpersonal problems than those with no prior suicidal history. Based on this evidence, researchers have begun using cognitive therapy to address the problem-solving aspect that could be serving as a catalyst for suicide in people who are cognitively unable to develop any other solution to their situations. And although the clinical arena has implemented this life-saving approach, few researchers have looked at how effective it is long-term.

In an effort to gauge the efficacy of cognitive therapy designed to address problem-solving skills in suicidal clients, Marjan Ghahramanlou-Holloway of the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, recently led a study that assessed outcomes in 120 participants, half of whom were enrolled in a control condition. Ghahramanlou-Holloway evaluated the participants before the therapy and again 6 months after completion. She found that the therapy participants had significantly lower levels of negative perceptions and formulated more constructive solutions than the control participants. “More specifically, individuals receiving cognitive therapy were significantly less likely to report a negative view toward life problems and impulsive/carelessness problem-solving style,” said Ghahramanlou-Holloway. She noted that these findings underscore the importance of addressing problem-solving skills in clients immediately after a suicide attempt to provide them with the necessary tools to protect them from a repeated attempt when they are most vulnerable.

Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Bhar, S. S., Brown, G. K., Olsen, C., Beck, A. T. (2012). Changes in problem-solving appraisal after cognitive therapy for the prevention of suicide. Psychological Medicine, 42.6, 1185-1193.

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  • andy


    May 17th, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    first of all we need to start considering those who attempt suicide to be somewhat a victim.its not for no reason that somebody will try to end their life.the underlying problem needs to be identified and resolved before the situation can improve.and cheers to cognitive therapy for coming to the aid of such people.

  • cristen


    May 18th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    The big hope is that at the first suicide attempt, they are not successful. The key is to prevent them from even tryingit in the first place.

  • Malaysia


    May 18th, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    If someone has tried suicide in the past, much of it has probably been about looking for a way to solve a problem and the only way that feels solvable for them is to leave the world behind.

    But what if they were given a better way to deal with their problems, and be shown that there is always a better solution than the one that they are contemplating.

    They need to see that if they think that they are solving one problem by killing themselves then they should think for a bit about the problems that they then leave behind for family to deal with.

    It won’t be pretty, and I think that most of these patients are going to find the work very difficult to do. But show them that this is for the best, and that life can be good again if they give it a chance to be.

  • Shamar


    May 19th, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    This is really a huge step for many patients.

    I don’t know how many suicidal patients are actually given the chance to go through therapy, but it would be so much better for most of them in the long term if they were offered this choice and could make something good come from something that was so bad.

  • Nell


    May 20th, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    The biggest obstacle facing a counselor with a suicidal patient is the ability to show that patient that there are other options.
    The solution does not lie in killing oneself but in the ability to take a step back for a moment and recognize that there are other ways to sail this ship.
    Often times, to a patient who is suicidal every little thing can feel like the end of the world. And there are only so many “every little things” that a person in this frame of mind can take.
    Giving them the tools to see that there is a solution out there for any problem that is not as dramatic or devastating as suicide can be a big challenge, but well worth the the work when he or she finally “gets” it.

  • Rick


    May 21st, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    I saw this study on PubMed and recently helped put together a workshop on CBT’s usefulness in treating suicidal patients. I hope to see more studies published about CBT’s usefulness in helping people gain control over their lives. It really is all about giving people the right tools.

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