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Strategies in Treatment of Suicidality: Identification of Common and Treatment-Specific Interventions in Empirically Supported Treatment Manuals

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(6):699-706
10.4088/JCP.08m04840blu

Objective: Many reports of treatments for suicidal patients claim effectiveness in reducing suicidal behavior but fail to demonstrate which treatment interventions, or combinations thereof, diminish suicidality. In this study, treatment manuals for empirically supported psychological treatments for suicidal patients were examined to identify which interventions they had in common and which interventions were treatment-specific.

Method: Empirically supported treatments for suicidality were identified through a literature search of PsychLit and MEDLINE for the years 1970–2007, employing the following search strategy: [suicide OR parasuicide] AND [therapy OR psychotherapy OR treatment] AND [random OR randomized]. After identifying the reports on randomized controlled studies that tested effectiveness of different treatments, the reference list of each report was searched for further studies. Only reports published in English were included. To ensure that rated manuals actually correspond to the delivered and tested treatments, we included only treatment interventions with explicit adherence rating and scoring and with adequate adherence ratings in the published studies. Five manualized treatments demonstrating efficacy in reducing suicide risk were identified and were independently evaluated by raters using a list of treatment interventions.

Results: The common interventions included a clear treatment framework; a defined strategy for managing suicide crises; close attention to affect; an active, participatory therapist style; and use of exploratory and change-oriented interventions. Some treatments encouraged a multimodal approach and identification of suicidality as an explicit target behavior, and some concentrated on the patient-therapist relationship. Emphasis on interpretation and supportive interventions varied. Not all methods encouraged systematic support for therapists.

Conclusion: This study identified candidate interventions for possible effectiveness in reducing suicidality. These interventions seem to address central characteristics of suicidal patients. Further studies are needed to confirm which interventions and which combinations thereof are most effective.

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(6):699–706

Submitted: November 2, 2008; accepted April 30, 2009 (doi:10.4088/JCP.08m04840blu).

Corresponding author: Igor Weinberg, PhD, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill St, Belmont, MA 02478 (iweinberg@mclean.harvard.edu).