Suicidal Ideation Through The Lens Of Schema Therapy
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Suicidal Ideation Through the Lens of Schema Therapy


Suicidal Ideation Through the Lens of Schema Therapy

September 10th was world suicide prevention day and in honour of this we dedicated our last blog to talking about the risk factors associated with suicide, the impact of losing someone to suicide and resources available for suicidal clients and those bereaved by suicide. Given the significance and importance of this topic I want to continue to talk about suicide in today’s blog but think about this through the lens of schema therapy.


In schema therapy we acknowledge that human beings are multifaceted, in other words we are all made up of different parts-what we call modes in schema therapy. These different modes develop in childhood to help us survive whatever environment we find ourselves in. They were really adaptive at some point in our life but sometimes they don’t serve us so well in adulthood, for example some parts can put us under a lot of pressure whilst other parts make us space out and disconnect from people we love. As a schema therapist when I am working with clients who are suicidal it is really important for me and the client to identify which mode(s) think suicide is an option. 


One of the most common modes that can drive people towards suicidal thinking is what we call the vulnerable child mode. When we feel intense emotional pain like grief, loneliness and hopelessness there may be a part of us that feels exhausted and wants to give up. Our emotional suffering and feelings of hopelessness might be exacerbated by another mode which sadly many of us are burdened with which is a punitive inner critic. This mode might tell us that no one cares about us, that we are going to be lonely forever and perpetuate feelings of defectiveness and shame to such an extent that we feel we don’t deserve to live. Or we might tell ourselves that others would be better off without us. If we have a compliant surrender mode we might prioritise other people above ourselves and if we are feeling very low we may erroneously conclude that suicide is the best option for all concerned. This is so very sad as suicide is so devestating for all involved. 


Anger can also drive people towards suicide. Anger can build inside of us and lead to deep feelings of resentment and a belief that life is unfair. In schema language we refer to this as our angry child mode and this mode might lead us to feel so bitter and angry that we want to put one finger up to life. If someone is impulsive this can be particularly worrisome as this may increase the likelihood of acting on this urge.  Impulsivity can also drive us to self soothe in potentially dangerous ways. Most people have some version of a self soother mode where we distance ourselves from emotional pain. The problem can come when we over rely on this mode or when the behaviours we are using to soothe ourselves is potentially dangerous. For example we might cut themselves or drink excessive amounts of alcohol to try and detach from our suffering. In this mode we might not intend to take our own life but this might sadly be the consequence with such high risk behaviours. 


In schema therapy the therapist and client take time to identify different modes, where and why they developed, how these modes now perpetuate suffering and ways to reduce the power these modes have on us. If a client is suicidal we take time to identify and reduce the suicidal modes, which may include some of the examples I gave above. We also work on strengthening modes that enable us to have fun, experience positive emotions, connect to others in meaningful ways, set healthy boundaries and strengthen modes that help us feel we have a life worth living. 


If you are interested in learning more about schema therapy you can visit our webpage here;