How Online Therapy Helps Mental Health Professionals Prevent Suicide

Published on: 06 Sep 2016
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Trigger Warning/Note: Suicide is an uncomfortable topic, but we have a responsibility to discuss it. By informing people of any and all methods of preventing suicide, we can spread awareness and help mental health professionals save lives.

People who are having suicidal thoughts need frequent care to ensure they don’t reach the point of attempting suicide. Online therapy can help prevent suicide by providing this kind of care, according to therapist testimonies and clinical studies, including this one published in JAMA Psychiatry.

When Talkspace therapist Katherine Glick worked with a client who was having suicidal thoughts, the daily contact online therapy offered was crucial.

“She felt like she had the active presence she needed,” Glick said.

Because of this presence, Glick’s client was able to eliminate her suicidal thoughts before her mental health deteriorated to the point of attempting suicide.

Daily contact also helps suicidal clients work with a therapist to set manageable and incremental goals. When therapists treat suicidal clients, they sometimes ask the client to agree not to consider or commit suicide until the next session, according to Glick. Then they repeat this process until the treatment works well enough to eliminate suicidal thoughts.

It can be difficult, however, for clients to achieve this goal on a weekly basis. It’s much easier to ask clients to agree to a day, Glick said, and then repeat the process the next day.

Certain types of online therapy have another benefit: helping suicidal clients record and revisit rational thoughts, positive facts and reasons to live during a time when their brain can only dwell on negativity.

When clients use Talkspace online therapy, they create a chat room they share with their therapist. They can fill the room with messages, recordings and pictures that might help them through the pain.

This room can be like a “place of hope” for clients who struggle with suicidal thoughts, said Talkspace Head of Clinical Development Nicole Amesbury, another therapist who has successfully used online therapy to treat clients with suicidal thoughts. If the room has helpful information in it, online therapy makes it easy for therapists to remind clients to check it.

On the other hand, frequent communication from traditional therapy is not readily available and can be expensive. This often means clients are waiting to speak to a therapist for six days after their suicidal thoughts occur. Clients might be able to call or text their in-person therapist when they are feeling suicidal, but this is not necessarily part of the relationship therapists and clients agree to during traditional therapy.

Both in-person and online therapists have a responsibility to contact the authorities if a client is in imminent danger. If online clients require the kind of intense care a psychiatric hospital offers, they can still maintain their relationship with the online therapist.

As long as their phone is on them, the treatment can continue and they can coordinate care with multiple mental health professionals. Online therapy eliminates any gaps in treatment patients might otherwise endure.

“Being on the phone with someone in an ambulance on their way to the hospital is the most intimate and effective way I’ve used online therapy to help people where traditional therapy could not,” said Talkspace therapist Karissa Brennan, DCC.

For clients with suicidal thoughts, online therapy can supplement the care traditional therapy and hospitals offer. By using it, mental health professionals can try to save more lives.

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