When Looking for a Therapist, Find One That Specializes in Your Particular Need


After my brother, Pete, took his own life I had to start seeing a therapist.  Not because I wanted to make sense of this, which I did, I just eventually realized that it was never going to make sense to me.  That realization really threw me for a while.  I needed to seek therapy because I now had to figure out how to live without the one person, that I had literally spoken to every day since we both old enough to communicate.  My sister-in-law never disconnected his phone, but I have stopped myself from calling it 100 or more times a day.  Only slightly exaggerated.  Luckily I had a friend, who had a friend, who had a friend, who happened to be the founder of With Hope, the Amber Craig Memorial Foundation.  She got me in with a therapist for an assessment five days after the incident and then got grant approval for me to see the therapist twice a week starting August 23, 2012.  This was actually pretty fast, even for an emergency grant proposal.  I saw her twice a week for what seemed like forever, then once every other week or every week as my financed allowed.  One week ago, I discharged myself because I could no longer afford it, (even at more than 1/2 off) since I did not have a job and I was going to school.  This past week I have been pretty busy with school and assignments, but when I have had down time, it’s been REALLY DOWN….I’m hoping that this gets better, because I don’t want to think about it getting worse.  

When I started this project for school, I had to do five postings, have five things (websites, etc) that were not generated by me and then five things that were generated by me.  For the crown jewel of my 5, please see my post titled “Boy Did I Get a Rude Awakening…”  For a first time directing a video, I think it turned out really well.  

One of the other things that I did for this project was interview a therapist, Suzette Spence, M.A., LMFT, who specializes in working with issues of depression and grieving.  Her therapy focuses on working with family survivors of suicide, unexpected and traumatic death and the passing away of a loved one.   Suzette understands at a very deep and personal level herself, the immense energy and courage it takes to get through the grieving journey especially of a traumatic death of a loved one.  We sat down in her office one afternoon and she answered my questions in a very thoughtful and caring manner.  Here is the transcript of the first part of that interview:  

Q:  Why do you focus on family survivors of Suicide and how long have you been doing this? 

A;  I have been seeing survivors for approximately eight years.  I focus on this population because there is such a need for therapists who specialize in this area and who have real life experience to match the situation.  

Q:  Are there any other areas that could be focused on relating to sucide?

A:  Yes, one can pursue a certificate in Thanatology or a fellowship in Thanatology.  (writer’s note:  Thanatology investigates the mechanisms and forensic aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany death and the post-mortem period, as well as wider social aspects related to death.  See http://www.suicidology.org/home)

Q:  Survivors have a hard time telling people how their loved one died because of feelings of shame, guilty, etc.  What do you feel needs to be done in order to change this? 

A:  I believe that, socially, things are starting to change in a very positive way.  The general public is now starting to become more educated in mental health issues and people are now starting to understand that suicide is largely related to depression and mental illness (writer’s note:  This depression and/or other mental health illnesses may or may not have been diagnosed and/or treated) The stigma socially and religiously that survivors used to feel is lessening. 

Q:  Some people feel that is a person talks about suicide, they are just trying to get attention.  There is evidence that proves this is not true (see http://suicide.org/suicide-myths.html). In general, how do know if a person who talks about suicide is serious about doing it?  

A:  I start by asking if the person believes they have a future.  I also ask if they feel hopeful about their future.  Then, depending on their answer, I then ask if they are talking about suicide because they want an “escape from the pain” or if they truly want to end their life.  If it is escape from the pain that they respond with, we then focus on behavorial strategies to deal with the pain and depression.  However, if the person continues to talk about ending their life, I ask if they have a means and a plan.  I also ask about prior attempts and of course would need to have a complete mental history in their file.  If there is intent, a means and a plan, then hospitalization is usually required.  

Tomorrow, I will give you part two of this interview, as well as some other insights that Suzette shared with me regarding suicide.  

In the meantime if you, or anyone you know, is in need of a therapist who specializes in grief and/or family survivors of suicide, you can reach Suzette by calling (714) 801-6850.  Her office is located at 228 W Main Street, Tustin, CA  92780.  

In the meantime, take good care of you and those you love.  

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One thought on “When Looking for a Therapist, Find One That Specializes in Your Particular Need

  1. Pete says:

    I think it’s amazing that you’re doing this hoping to help someone else. I appreciate the fact that it’s all your perspective and that you aren’t bringing in those of us who aren’t where you are yet. This is why you’re our rock/role model etc. Love you.

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