- For good reason, suicide is of growing concern across the nation; rates continue to increase annually in the United States. Accurate assessment remains an obstacle to effective treatment for individuals who are suicidal. Without proper screening, a client cannot get a referral to see a specialist and therefore cannot receive necessary treatment. Clinicians commonly encounter individuals at risk for suicide, although these professionals lack adequate training in suicide-assessment skills. So, too, do clinicians often doubt their ability to accurately assess risk, often because prior suicide-assessment models have contained long lists of protective factors weighed against potential risk factors. At bottom, however, suicide assessment eludes calculation; it is less of a science and more of an art, drawing as it does on probing assessments of individuals’ situations and especially their contemplation of suicide as a solution for their problems.
Thomas Joiner’s interpersonal-psychological theory of suicide assessment (IPT) caused a paradigm shift within the field by assessing suicide risk in terms of three main factors, essentially consolidating all the risk and protective factors from preexisting models. Each factor (thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and acquired capability) carries the same weight in the assessment. By simplifying and streamlining the suicide-assessment process, clinicians have become more confident, efficient, and effective in assessing an individual’s risk level, allowing these professionals to remain calm in high-stress situations and enabling them to better assess their clients’ needs.
The present study used an experimental, nonconcurrent, multiple-baseline, multiple-probe design as well as a one-group pretest–posttest to examine the impact of IPT training on the self-efficacy and knowledge of participants. Twenty participants, ranging from 24 to 53 years in age, attended a remote, three-session, online training on IPT, where they learned about the theory’s foundation and its application to practical settings. One group contained preservice mental health clinicians, and the other group included rural K–12 school counselors. The results indicated that online IPT-based training increased participants’ knowledge of suicide assessment tactics, but the findings did not reveal an increase in participants’ self-efficacy following the completion of their training. These data demonstrate that suicide training can be an effective learning tool for clinicians frequently in contact with suicidal clients. Future research should explore clinicians’ self-efficacy, with an emphasis on those factors most likely to increase confidence when conducting suicide assessments.