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NewsDec 7, 2022

Suicide intervention training addresses often omitted mental health topic

34 counseling students receive certificate through Riverside partnership

Photo of Schwartz Hall
Riverside Community Care, which has a mental health center in Lesley's Schwartz Hall, recently facilitated a three-part training to support future counselors.

By Georgia Sparling

A new training program through Riverside Community Care is giving future mental health professionals the tools to recognize and address signs of suicidal ideation.  

“I have no doubt that these trainings will save lives,” says Assistant Professor Joe Mageary, a licensed mental health counselor. “I have personally experienced the impact of suicide and I know the importance of bringing this topic out of the shadows.” 

Lesley joined into a partnership with Riverside Community Care earlier this year. The nonprofit recently opened an outpatient mental treatment center on campus. Educational opportunities, such as the Suicide Assessment Intervention Training (SAIT), are another part of the partnership. 

SAIT is offered through Riverside Trauma Center and MindWise Innovations, services of Riverside Community Care. The training was created after Riverside clinicians realized how few mental health professionals learn how to address suicide prevention and postvention (for those dealing with the aftermath of a suicide) in their graduate school programs. 

According to Riverside, 87 to 97 percent of mental health professionals will encounter a suicidal client, yet only half of psychology trainees and less than a quarter of social workers are educated in suicide risk. 

“It’s like a cardiologist not knowing CPR,” says Larry Berkowitz, the co-founder and director of the Riverside Trauma Center. 

At least 12 million people have suicidal thoughts in America every year, he says, yet there are many misconceptions around the topic. “Even trained clinicians worry that, if we talk about it, we’re going to plant the idea, which has been debunked by experience and research,” says Berkowitz. 

Instead, SAIT gives mental health professionals an understanding of the “intense amount of psychological pain” that leads to self-harm and shows them how to guide their clients through healthy coping strategies. 

While most SAIT graduates have been practicing counselors or social workers, it’s never too early to begin educating future clinicians.  

“I knew that it would be a great step for somebody like me who didn’t come from a counseling or psychology background,” said first-year graduate student Ian Iwanicki. Until recently, Iwanicki had plans to become a physician assistant, but a conversation with his grandfather, a psychotherapist, changed his mind.  

The three-week training, which included a combination of live and asynchronous sessions, gave him useful tools for helping future clients and an important certification as he begins looking for the first of two required internships of his master’s program. As the three-week course progressed, he found himself more comfortable talking about suicide and addressing his own emotional response. 

“It might be a lot for a new counselor to handle,” Iwanicki said. “Starting early is an important step.” 

Although Lesley and Riverside planned for an initial pilot of 25 to 30 participants, 34 Lesley counseling students signed up for and completed the fall SAIT session, which was offered for free. 

“This speaks to the need and the desire for this kind of training opportunity,” Mageary said.  

He and Riverside would like to offer future SAIT opportunities for students.