Emotional responses to suicidal patients: Factor structure, construct, and predictive validity of the therapist response questionnaire-suicide form

Shira Barzilay, Zimri S. Yaseen*, Mariah Hawes, Bernard Gorman, Rachel Altman, Adriana Foster, Alan Apter, Paul Rosenfield, Igor Galynker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Mental health professionals have a pivotal role in suicide prevention. However, they also often have intense emotional responses, or countertransference, during encounters with suicidal patients. Previous studies of the Therapist Response Questionnaire-Suicide Form (TRQ-SF), a brief novel measure aimed at probing a distinct set of suicide-related emotional responses to patients found it to be predictive of near-term suicidal behavior among high suicide-risk inpatients. The purpose of this study was to validate the TRQ-SF in a general outpatient clinic setting. Methods: Adult psychiatric outpatients (N = 346) and their treating mental health professionals (N = 48) completed self-report assessments following their first clinic meeting. Clinician measures included the TRQ-SF, general emotional states and traits, therapeutic alliance, and assessment of patient suicide risk. Patient suicidal outcomes and symptom severity were assessed at intake and one-month follow-up. Following confirmatory factor analysis of the TRQ-SF, factor scores were examined for relationships with clinician and patient measures and suicidal outcomes. Results: Factor analysis of the TRQ-SF confirmed three dimensions: (1) affiliation, (2) distress, and (3) hope. The three factors also loaded onto a single general factor of negative emotional response toward the patient that demonstrated good internal reliability. The TRQ-SF scores were associated with measures of clinician state anger and anxiety and therapeutic alliance, independently of clinician personality traits after controlling for the state- and patient-specific measures. The total score and three subscales were associated in both concurrent and predictive ways with patient suicidal outcomes, depression severity, and clinicians' judgment of patient suicide risk, but not with global symptom severity, thus indicating specifically suicide-related responses. Conclusion: The TRQ-SF is a brief and reliable measure with a 3-factor structure. It demonstrates construct validity for assessing distinct suicide-related countertransference to psychiatric outpatients. Mental health professionals' emotional responses to their patients are concurrently indicative and prospectively predictive of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Thus, the TRQ-SF is a useful tool for the study of countertransference in the treatment of suicidal patients and may help clinicians make diagnostic and therapeutic use of their own responses to improve assessment and intervention for individual suicidal patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume9
Issue numberAPR
DOIs
StatePublished - 5 Apr 2018

Keywords

  • Countertransference
  • Emotional response
  • Risk assessment
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide
  • Suicide attempt
  • Suicide prevention
  • TRQ

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