What are Suicide Counselors?

All counselors need training in counseling individuals who are at risk of suicide -- and recognizing them. Some counselors focus on suicide counseling. Suicide counseling can mean two things. It can mean counseling those who are at risk, including those who have made previous attempts. It can also mean counseling survivors. The hard truth is that they are also at risk. It's not uncommon for one suicide to be followed by others. Family members and close friends -- even those who seem to have been only peripherally acquainted with the person -- may be wracked by grief and guilt. There is also a certain amount of risk in the larger community. Suicide counselors help end the cycle.

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Things you should know about suicide counselors...

Mental health counselors may employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectic behavior therapy (DBT). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be effective for helping people develop more balanced perspectives: for example, examining the evidence that their life is worthwhile and not just the evidence that it isn't. DBT was developed for use with patients with borderline personality disorder but has also been used with other individuals who exhibit self-destructive behaviors.

Mental health professionals also help at risk individuals develop safety plans. If the risk is high, they take steps to ensure safety.

People who do not have a major mental illness can become suicidal in the wake of overwhelming grief or extreme life events. A widow or widower may decide to take their life; the same goes for those who face divorce or other relationship losses. Young people who have been taunted about sexual orientation are also at risk for suicide. Alcohol and drugs can increase impulsivity and thus suicidal impulses.

Many suicides or attempted suicides do have major mental illnesses. Those with bipolar disorder are even more likely to attempt suicide than those without bipolar disorder. Individuals with borderline personality disorder or dissociative disorders may also be at risk. Counselors who work with these populations should have a strong understanding of thought patterns and risk factors.

Becoming a Suicide Counselor

Mental health counseling requires a graduate degree. Students may enroll in a 60 unit CACREP-accredited mental health counseling program or a program in a closely related field. Counseling psychology is another option.

Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited Master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Suicide and mental health counselors must have a graduate degree. Undergraduate majors such as psychology and human services are popular options.

Counselors who want to acquire advanced skills and contribute to the collective body of knowledge often pursue doctoral degrees. There are sometimes opportunities to conduct research or carry out special projects at the master’s level. The American Association of Suicidology, for example, takes on student interns. The psychology degree and human services degree are common undergraduate majors, while not required, either can be an asset. Prospective counselors may choose to work at crisis hotlines or serve depressed individuals in other capacities; quite a bit of training is often involved, even for volunteer positions. These trainings don’t shorten graduate education, but they do help prospective counselors find their niche. They may also strengthen their applications.

A suicide counselor may need far more training than what is included in the mental health counseling program. Counselors may stay up-to-date by taking continuing education in the area of suicide prevention and counseling. The American Association of Suicidology is recognized as a CE provider by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a wealth of resources for professionals who may come into contact with suicidal individuals.


Mental health counselors and other mental health providers are state licensed. In order to be licensed at the highest level, they must complete a period of supervised work experience. One or more licensing exams will be required.

School counselors, another group of professionals who have a hand in suicide prevention, receive their certification or licensing through the state department of education.

Read more about other types of counseling professions.

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