When Nate Wagner and I first spoke in 2015 I was struck by his passion for his practice and supporting those who have lost loved ones to suicide. His memoir, Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope, tells his story from his perspective as a brother and as a clinician. He is very generously offering the first two chapters for free here (though I suggest you buy the whole thing).
Suicide is one of those issues that most of us therapists are very uncomfortable with. With the holiday season, it’s likely that our clients with grief are particularly triggered and much of our own grief can show up as well. I reached out to Nate to write for the blog because his combination of life experience, research, and clinical interest positions him perfectly to help us help the clients who are grieving this very complex loss. Here’s Nate:
I am honored to share my life lessons with you today. I appreciate Allison and the incredible group she has built. My name is Nate Wagner MA LPC and I am part of a group practice in Harrisburg, PA. I want to give you insight into how to help your clients who have specifically lost a sibling to suicide (there are points that apply to other losses as well).
I lost my brother Brian to suicide in July 2002. This event changed my life forever. It has shaped me in a lot of ways and has helped me to become who I am today. Most days I’m completely okay with talking about suicide. This isn’t the easiest topic, but it is so important for our clients to know whether or not we are comfortable or at least willing to sit in their pain.
Losing my brother to suicide dramatically impacts my practice. I support my clients through several different practical exercises. First, deep breathing in between sessions and throughout the day is very important. Journaling also is a huge way I cope with my own ongoing grief. I also know that if I’m exercising then I am more able to sit with them in their grief. I must be aware how I’m doing with the processing the grief of my brother’s suicide. If it is near a holiday or his birthday (or death anniversary) I will need to be extra kind to myself. I also write in my journal and in my blog to help me to keep processing my thoughts and emotions. In addition, I also utilize text messages to ask that my friends would pray for me or support me. Self-care is so important as we work through the trauma of losing a sibling (or other loved one) to suicide.
Earlier this year I published my memoir Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope. I wrote this book for those who lost a sibling to suicide. I did not have resources available for me when I was working through my grief (2002) so I wrote what I needed to know. Fortunately I have had feedback that others have benefited from my story. It blows me away that sibling survivors have read it in the UK and all over the US.
The bottom line of what I have learned to help the client of someone who lost a sibling to suicide is to listen. Sibling survivors don’t need us to tell them what to do, how to cope or to answer the million questions they are asking. They just need us to be there to listen to them. I am suggesting that at times we should say nothing. Are you ready to be okay with silence?
Nathan S Wagner practices in a group practice in Harrisburg, PA. He wrote his memoir about losing his brother to suicide in 2002. His focus is on sharing hope with those who are suffering through sibling suicide loss. He can be found at wagnercounselingservices.com. His book is sold here on Amazon.
Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.