How a therapist survives the suicide of a patient—with a special focus on patients with psychosis

Borut Skodlar , Claudia Welz

pp. 235-246

The article draws from a personal clinical experience of two suicides, not far removed from each other in time. The first patient was a 33-year-old intellectual suffering from depression with narcissistic traits but no psychotic elements, while the second patient was a 21-year-old student with a manifest psychotic episode behind him and with characteristics of post-psychotic depression at the time of suicide. The two suicides had very different impacts on the therapist: the first left open some "space" for reflection, communication, and working-through, while the second closed such a "space," leaving only a tiny door to the existential roots of human beings and suffering. The therapist was able to find some "shelter" by talking to supervisors, colleagues, and friends in the first case; in the second, the only possible "shelter" was glimpsed in the philosophy of groundlessness (Ungrund) of the Russian existentialist Nicolai Berdyaev. The personal experiences of the therapist, along with some theoretical interpretations of the after-effects of both suicides, are presented using a psychodynamic and existential–phenomenological understanding of the therapeutic relationship with a psychotic and a non-psychotic patient. The main dilemmas exposed by a patient's suicide, especially if the patient suffers from psychosis, are difficult to deal with in the usual clinical settings and call for resources beyond it. The authors propose that these can be found in philosophical and theological insights.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-011-9205-3

Full citation:

Skodlar, B. , Welz, C. (2013). How a therapist survives the suicide of a patient—with a special focus on patients with psychosis. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 12 (1), pp. 235-246.

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