When online counselling a client who is in a different state, if the client is suicidal what do we as professional need to do?
Ensuring client safety and well-being is a priority and responding to clients who express suicidal thoughts during online sessions can be especially challenging. If you feel your clients may be suicidal, do assess the risk by gently asking about how often and how intense these thoughts are, and whether the person is considering or planning on acting on these thoughts. It is essential to assess this risk in all clients at the initial stage before beginning online sessions. As a counsellor, you need to refer any potential client with suicide risk for psychiatric evaluation and appropriate management or to emergency services if required. Such clients would not be offered online counselling sessions at that point and it is important to have a detailed evaluation and selection process. It is possible that your client expresses suicidal thoughts or intent at any stage during the counselling. You may be more uncertain if the person is from another state and you have no access to any family member or emergency contact. As a standard procedure, you need to discuss such potential risks with all clients at the start and inform them about the need to consult with a local mental health practitioner/emergency service in such situations. It would be important to advise your client to seek these additional/emergency care services when needed. If you work with clients in remote locations, it would be useful to compile a list of mental health practitioners, centres and resources as well as helplines that operate in various parts of the country.
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