Coming In January: The Strengths-Based Approach to Suicide assessment and treatment Planning

As many of you know, Rita and I have been working on a suicide assessment and treatment planning manuscript to be published by the American Counseling Association. Today, we received a photo of the full (front and back) cover. Although we know you’re not nearly as excited about this book (coming in mid-January!) as we are, below, I’ve pasted the photo of the cover and the first part of the Preface.


Writing a book about suicide may not have been our best idea ever. Rita made the point more than once that reading and writing about suicide at the depth necessary to write a helpful book can affect one’s mood in a downward direction. She was right, of course. Her rightness inspired us to pay attention to the other side of the coin, so we decided to integrate positive psychology and the happiness literature into this book. As is often the case when grappling with matters of humanity, focusing on suicide led us to a deeper understanding of suicide’s complementary dialectic—a meaningful and fully-lived life–and that has been a very good thing.

Before diving into these pages, please consider the following.

Do the Self-Care Thing

            In the first chapter, we emphasize how important it is to practice self-care when working with clients who are suicidal. Immersing ourselves in the suicide literature required a balancing focus on positive psychology and wellness. While you’re reading this book and exploring suicide, you cannot help but be emotionally impacted, and we cannot overstate the importance of you taking care of yourself throughout this process and into the future. You are the instrument through which you provide care for others . . . and so we highly encourage you to repeatedly do the self-care thing.

What is the Strengths-Based Approach?

            Many people have asked, “What on earth do you mean by a strengths-based approach to suicide assessment and treatment planning?” In response, we usually meander in and out of various bullet points, relational dynamics, assessment procedures, and try to emphasize that the approach is more than just strength-based, it’s also wellness-oriented and holistic. By strengths-based, we mean that we recognize and nurture the existing and potential strengths of our clients. By wellness-oriented we mean that we believe in incorporating wellness activities into counseling and life. By holistic we mean that we focus on emotional, cognitive, interpersonal, physical, cultural-spiritual, behavioral, and contextual dimensions of living.

You will find the following strengths-based, wellness-oriented, and holistic principles woven into every chapter of this book.

  1. Historically, suicide ideation has been socially constructed as sinful, illegal, or a terribly frightening and bad illness. In contrast, we believe suicide ideation is a normal variation on human experience that typically stems from difficult environmental circumstances and excruciating emotional pain. Rather than fear client disclosures of suicidality, we welcome these disclosures because they offer an opportunity to connect deeply with distressed clients and provide therapeutic support.
  2. Although we believe risk factors, warning signs, protective factors, and suicide assessment instruments are important, we value relationship connections with clients over predictive formulae and technical procedures.
  3. We believe trust, empathy, collaboration, and rapport will improve the reliability, validity, and utility of data gathered during assessments. Consequently, we embrace the principles of therapeutic assessment.
  4. We believe that counseling practitioners need to ask directly about and explore suicide ideation using a normalizing frame or other sophisticated and empathic interviewing strategies.
  5. We believe traditional approaches to suicide assessment and treatment are excessively oriented toward psychopathology. To compensate for this pathology-orientation, we explicitly value and ask about clients’ positive experiences, personal strengths, and coping strategies.
  6. We believe the narrow pursuit of psychopathology causes clinicians to neglect a more complete assessment and case formulation of the whole person. To compensate, we use a holistic, seven-dimensional model to create a broader understanding of what’s hurting and what’s helping in each individual client’s life. 
  7. We value the positive emphasis of safety planning and coping skills development over the negative components of no-suicide contracts and efforts to eliminate suicidal thoughts.

23 thoughts on “Coming In January: The Strengths-Based Approach to Suicide assessment and treatment Planning”

  1. Thank you emphatically for your dedication to this extremely hard topic. I have learned a lot from you and Rita and look forward to reading this book. Much gratitude to you.

  2. I look forward to having my own copy of your newest book to read and digest. Timely topic. Much needed resource. Always appreciating the work of both you and Rita. Happy holly-daze!

  3. This is wonderful. I look forward to using it with my own clients one day. Thank you for all the work you both have done to prepare the way for new and future therapists.
    Congratulations on a completed project!

  4. I can’t wait to read this, John! And to send it to my sister who is a child psychiatrist in Pittsburgh. I feel lucky to know you. 🙂

    Nancy Hobbins Suicide Prevention Coordinator Missoula City-County Health Department



    Your Tomorrow Matters.

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

    -or- text “MT” to 741-741


    1. Hi Nancy!

      Thanks for your positive words. Funny thing, I have a long-time friend who is a psychiatrist at Western Psychiatric Institute in Pittsburgh.

      Anyway, thanks for your support and for doing all the great work you’re doing.

      I hope you’re doing well.

  5. I just stumbled across your page and am looking forward to your book. I am currently studying to become a Social worker and also just went thru a suicide attempt with my youngest daughter. I look forward to reading your book.

  6. Watching your series on now! Can’t wait for this book to be released! We had a recent death by suicide on our campus that is really pushing me to learn more about prevention.

    1. Thanks Kate! One of the big things I’ve learned about suicide over the years is that we intervene as much as we can to decrease distress and hopefully prevent suicide, while also recognizing that it always has been and continues to be impossible to prevent every potential suicide. I’m very sorry to hear of the suicide loss on your campus and wish you the best in coping and learning. Sincerely, John

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