Like the rest of the country, I woke today to the news of Robin Williams’ death; it was almost the first thing that my partner said to me this morning. It’s sad news at any time, but somehow his death has touched me far more than any of the other celebrity deaths I’ve heard about recently. Perhaps it was because he was 20 years older than me, and therefore working as an actor for as long as I remember films. I grew up with his films, and I have always been struck by the sensitivity that he played his characters. My favourite film has always been ‘What dreams may come’; the story of one man’s journey through death, and suicide touches me in ways I can’t explain. Other films of his also touched me – Good will Hunting; Dead Poet’s Society. Every film I have seen him do has been done sensitively. I remember watching Mrs Doubtfire with my then partner, who was trans, and she had nothing bad to say about the film; she felt it was done well, although that character’s struggles were not my partner’s struggles – the point was, she was not given cause to take offence.
So, to hear that he is dead, and of suicide, was a shock. I have heard people say ‘if it was too much for him, then what chance to any of us have?’ and also people talking about how ‘selfish’ he was. Mostly, I think that material possessions aren’t what make us happy, and this is a testament to that, and as for selfish? How selfish are *we* if we demand that a loved one stay alive at massive cost to themselves, just to make us feel better?
When I started this blog post, I didn’t know where I was going – I thought: ‘something about the frailty of our clients’ lives and how it is for us as therapists and specifically trainees, but actually, as I wrote the paragraph above, I think that for me this is about suicide and how my view and the person-centered view mesh.
I firmly believe that it is an individual’s right to choose. And i believe that the person-centered approach allows for that. I am not the expert of anyone, and I do not assert that (lack of) expertise over anyone. yes of COURSE i hope that all my clients thrive in therapy and finish counselling happier than when they started, but when it comes down to it, I respect that my clients know themselves. They know whether they are capable of making it through whatever they are aiming to make it through, and all I can do is be there along the way.
I’ve expressed this view on counselling forums before and been chastised for it, but I don’t change my mind. All I can do if I have a client in this position is to make sure that my notes are meticulous, so that if a client DOES complete suicide, I have what I need to protect myself in coroner’s court. I can keep good notes, I can talk closely with my supervisor, to make sure that we are both on the same page, but I cannot save my client. Only my client can save my client. I can do everything in my power to stay with my client on their journey, in the hope that the ‘conditions’ are indeed sufficient, and that includes referring them on if needed – trainee pride has no place here; the client’s life might be at stake. It can be hard to have a client who is suicidal. I’m not saying otherwise. But I still believe that it is the client’s right, should they wish, to take their own life. As a trainee however, there are many things that I find hard as a therapist- there is a saying in counselling circles that you are sent the clients you need, rather than the clients that you want and it’s not that a suicidal client is a special type of difficulty- I suspect that there are people out there who would be fine with a suicidal client, but who would find something else very much more difficult.
Do I think suicide is selfish? Possibly. Do I think that being selfish is wrong? Not necessarily. To me, being selfish means that you are putting your needs first. I suspect that a lot of people, if they were more selfish in their lives, would feel less like they needed to be ‘selfish’ in killing themselves.