Psychologists’ Willingness to Provide Services to Individuals at Risk of Suicide

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Abstract

Objective

This study examined psychologists’ willingness to accept a new client into their private practice as a function of the client's clinical presentation (with or without overt suicidality). Psychologists’ openness to working with a client at risk of suicide was evaluated in the context of potential barriers to treatment provision, such as practitioners’ endorsement of stigmatizing attitudes, concerns over liability and inadequate training, and limited access to community resources.

Method

Eighty-six licensed psychologists practicing within the United States were surveyed via e-mail and randomly assigned to one of two conditions, consisting of exposure to a vignette describing either a client reporting current suicidal ideation and a history of attempts or a client without explicitly elevated suicide risk. All participants were asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their likelihood of accepting the hypothetical client into their practice and examining possible explanations for disinclination to provide treatment.

Results

Psychologists were less willing to work with a client experiencing suicidality than an individual without elevated suicide risk. Those indicating a reluctance to provide services reported greater concerns over the adequacy of their suicide-related skills and training and fewer resources in the community.

Conclusions

Recommendations for improving the responsiveness of private practitioners are provided, with an emphasis on enhancing clinical training and increasing the availability and accessibility of mental health resources.

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