Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology
Individuals who are bereaved by the suicide loss of a loved one (also known as “suicide survivors”) face high rates of complicated grief, mental illness, social isolation, experiences of stigma, and suicide attempts. While suicide loss therapy (or “postvention”) attracts many individuals grieving familial suicides, those impacted by the suicide loss of a close friend are underrepresented in both individual and group therapies, despite indications that friend suicide survivors are impacted at an equivalent level and frequency to family members. Using a constructivist grounded theory method, this study aimed to investigate the lived experiences and therapeutic needs of 8 adults who identified as suicide survivors and attended psychotherapy to address grief after the suicide loss of a friend. Findings suggest that friend suicide survivors benefit from both individual therapy and suicide loss support groups; specifically, friend suicide survivors view therapy as a space to process complex emotions, challenge self-blame, obtain education about grief, and connect with group members. However, friend suicide survivors also desire to receive more specialized care from individual therapists with experience and training in suicide bereavement. While friend suicide survivors may experience challenges to help-seeking, including stigma and a perceived lack of social permission to grieve friends, they may feel motivated by the “wake-up call” of friends’ suicides and existing relationships with therapists. Outside of therapy, friend suicide survivors appear to benefit from social support from other suicide survivors and engaging in meaning-making activities. Results of this study have implications for training of mental health professionals and best practices for working with suicide survivors.