190. ACT for Suicide Prevention with Sean Barnes

Mental health clinicians want to alleviate human suffering and do what we can to help prevent suicide. And yet, like many stigmatized topics, suicide is often avoided in conversations – including clinical conversations. Basic behavioral science tells us that we humans tend to avoid painful stimuli, and thanks to the double-edged sword of verbal behavior, painful stimuli (like conversations about suicide and suffering) can be both physical and psychological. Suicide stigmatization, as well as uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, can keep even the most experienced clinicians and providers from effectively helping their clients who are experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

In this episode of Psychologists Off the Clock, Debbie and Sean Barnes, clinical research psychologist and principal investigator of the ACT for Life study, discuss suicidal behavior, ways suicide is challenging for clinicians, and how to effectively engage with clients who have thoughts and feelings related to suicide. As clinicians, we often have limited behavioral repertoires around suicidality in our clients. We often tend to focus on helping clients ‘not die.’ However, there is more to life than ‘not dying,’ and suicide prevention is only the first, albeit vital, step in recovery. Join us in this episode to learn how to help your client build a life worth living!

Workshop for Therapists: Join Sean, Debbie, and their colleagues for ACT for Life: Experiential training on a Contextual Behavioral Approach to Suicidal Ideation and Behavior at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science’s virtual pre-conference workshop, June 12-13, 2021.

Listen and Learn:

  • Why it’s important to talk more openly about suicide
  • The plethora of resources available for suicide prevention, postvention, and safety planning
  • Some of the challenges for therapists in managing suicide risk and working effectively with suicide (and some insight as to why it can be so challenging)
  • Sean and Debbie’s expert, experienced-backed opinions about talking to clients about suicidal behaviors, risk, and safety planning.
  • An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) conceptualization of suicide and why this approach to conceptualizing suicide is unique compared to more traditional approaches
  • The function of suicidal behavior and why it’s important to explore function as a clinician
  • About Sean’s intervention, ACT for Life, and how he is targeting suicidal behavior from a contextual behavioral approach
  • What creative hopelessness is, how to use it, and why it can often feel scary for clinicians
  • How to implement mindfulness and acceptance into your clinical work with suicidal clients
  • What it means to expand someone’s behavioral repertoire in the presence of suicidal thoughts and feelings

About Sean Barnes:

Sean M. Barnes, Ph.D. is a clinical research psychologist at the Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) for Veteran Suicide Prevention and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. Sean is a consultant for the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Risk Management Consultation Program and an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Depression provider and training consultant. He is also the principal investigator of the ACT for Life study, testing a brief ACT protocol for maximizing recovery after suicidal crises. Other aspects of Sean’s research focus on the use of contextual behavioral interventions for moral injury, and the study of suicide risk assessment, but all his projects share a common goal of alleviating suffering and helping others build vital meaningful lives.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 

Prevention Resources for People at Risk of Suicide & Those Who Want to Help Keep Them Safe:

Postvention Resources for Coping with Suicide Attempts or Suicide:

Safety Planning Resources: 

Resources for Clinicians:

Related Episodes:

Join the discussion

Instagram feed @offtheclockpsych

Instagram has returned empty data. Please authorize your Instagram account in the plugin settings .


Episode 190