Workshop: Practical Tips for Working with Suicidal Teens

Holly Harmon, MSW

This program will focus on the assessment and intervention of suicidal thoughts in young adults. The first hour will cover methods of assessment, focusing on specific questions to ask and understanding barriers to reporting suicidal thoughts. We will discuss cultural influences on reporting suicidal thoughts and how to address them. The second hour will focus on the resulting interventions, including safety planning, involving family and other supports, and means restriction. We will discuss the critical importance of developing an onsite consultation team when treating suicidal teens.  Throughout the workshop, participants will be encouraged to actively develop their own templates for assessing suicidal thoughts and for safety planning.

Detailed Program:

I.      Introduction

a.      Speaker background and training

b.      Assumptions and biases in clinical care

II.       Cultural considerations of the workshop material, including presentation model

a.      Interruptions are fine, will also address questions at the end

b.      Interaction between participants is encouraged

III.      Agenda

a.      Topic overview

b.      Worksheet development concept

Part One:  Assessing Suicidal Thinking and Self-injury

I.     What biases do we bring to the table and why are they relevant?

II.   Why are teenagers/young adults suicidal?

a.      Trauma, problem-solving deficits, psychobiological vulnerability, etc.

III.  Thwarted belongingness – Joiner model (very brief) overview

IV.  The role of self-injury

a.      Suicidal gesture versus maladaptive coping skill

b.      Assessing self-injury

V.     Suicide continuum

VI.   Opening the door to discuss suicidal thoughts – making the conversation “safe”

a.      Education about why you are asking

b.      Body language

VII.    The suicide question

a.      What to avoid

b.      What to ask

c.       Phrasing the question to encourage an honest answer

d.      Reading the clues

VIII.   Why having a team matters

Part Two:  Safety Planning

I.  Conceptualization of a safety “plan” versus a promise or contract

II.  Function of a safety plan

III.  Chain analysis/frame stop (brief)

IV.  Essential elements

a.      Triggers

b.      Levels of support

c.       Coping skills

d.      Flexibility

e.      Means restriction

V.      Allies in safety planning


Participants will:

1)      Learn specific questions to use/techniques to use when assessing suicidal thoughts in teens

2)      Assess the role that cultural and religious beliefs may play on reporting suicidal thoughts

3)      Learn the basic elements of a robust safety plan, and when to modify for a client