O Captain! My captain!


Robin Williams

Robin Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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.

11 thoughts on “O Captain! My captain!

  1. Hi,

    Hmm…having known some people who have ended their lives, I can say that none of them were selfish. The decision they made was the only decision they *could* make considering the positions they were in, and they were intelligent enough to see that there was little [if any] realistic chance of their lives improving, but a high likelihood of them disintegrating further.

    I wish they hadn’t ended their lives. I have selfish notions that maybe I could have done something to help them see their lives as worth living. Losing them has impacted us on so, so many levels.

    The little I have read about Robin Williams death….it is really sad. To be honest, I have found the various MH orgs “if this news has affected you, please call…..” one of the most troubling aspects. If someone is actively suicidal; I find it very difficult to understand how an actor they probably never knews decision to end his life would change their state of mind. Oh, and the fact is; crisis support is unavailable to many of us, so it`s pretty cruel to say “we will help” when it`s unlikely any help will be forthcoming.

    I agree with you, that suicide is a choice and one that a person should be free to make. It is grim that more often than not, no other real, life changing choices are available, though.

    • Thanks for commenting 🙂

      I don’t think that ‘selfish’ is a bad thing, but I do think that society makes it so. It’s not selfish to out our own needs first. But generally if that means that we can’t then do something for someone else, we are called selfish and told that’s bad (because somehow it is ‘better’ to run yourself to a point of exhaustion for someone else).

      Having seen a few people with mental health stuff yesterday it has affected them, but it’s not robin williams’ death that has affected them, it’s been the fact that everyone is talking about suicide and everyone has an opinion about it. I don’t know exactly which but the media feels they’re referring to, but I can see that there have been people who have been affected.

      I also agree with you that there is often little in the way of help. The nhs in the UK is struggling. To cope with mental health and people often wait months (or years) for treatment. Charity counselling (like where I work) is available, but often struggles to get the word out to people that it’s there.

  2. […] 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 …  […]

  3. Ellen says:

    “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.”

    I’m glad you said this Trainee. I’ve wondered about this quite a bit myself. If it could be OK to not be wonderful, to complain, to grouch….if then a suicide could be averted. If the shadow could be allowed to be aired for a while, and accepted.

    I don’t suffer from depression with a capital D myself, though I do struggle in many ways, so it could be I don’t know the truth of it. I have wondered though from people’s stories if the need to live up to ‘one’s best self’ is not extremely harmful for some.

    Not sure if this is what you meant, but it’s something I wonder about.

    • I think this at least touches on what I am trying to say, and has your own spin on it also, which I also think is completely relevant. If there is less need to be perfect and more space to be flawed then we are not forcing ourselves to live up to an impossibility all of the time, and are not constantly ‘not being good enough’.

      Thanks for adding to my thoughts on it 🙂

  4. CorimusCounseling says:

    I feel your spontaneity in writing, and I followed your flow of thoughts and feelings. It is beautiful. Indeed suicide is scary, and I believe no matter how much we want to respect one’s choice, yet when it comes to our closed ones, we all become personal and protective and want the others to stay in our lives.

    And it is a journey for us as counselors, to respect the others in their wills. We respect, or we sometimes react, yet we are most importantly showing the most natural human being’s side – we are connected, and we feel sad for the gone of the others.

    R.I.P. Robin Williams.
    Dead Poet Society was one of my biggest inspirations in learning and empowerment when I was young. I feel sad, but grateful for Williams’ gift to the world.

    • Thank you for your comment. I feel much the same. I don’t know if it was on purpose, or an accident that all of his films have at least some parts that I find deeply moving, but I do find that of all his films I’ve seen so far.

  5. Ana says:

    Very interesting and insightful post. I am a trainee therapist and very ‘young’ in my client work so to speak & your opinions would be very similar to my own in terms of how you define ‘selfish’, the person centred approach and acknowledging & respecting the client’s responsibility and knowledge of themselves. Thank you

  6. Em says:

    Dear Trainee Therapist, I too was deeply saddened to hear of Robin Williams. I am also thinking how bold you are to post your thoughts about your client work, which I find courageous to some extent. I wanted to remind you that as if I was your client I could read what you’ve said, and identify you reasonably easily, as you’ll probably know, and I think find it crass and hurtful, maybe, that you discussed what is it like for you to work with ‘me’ and my suicidal feelings, and to let the ‘whole world’ know. I wonder if everyone involved is on the same page about that? So, perhaps ‘covering yourself’ with your notes isn’t the only consideration.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comment.

      My post wasn’t intended to discuss any specific client in any way, but I can see that it might perhaps be read that way, so I have amended my text slightly, in a way that doesn’t change my intended meaning, but hopefully removes ambiguity/perceived direct references.

      Best wishes.

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