Theoretical models of suicide are based on risk factors associated with suicide, such as psychiatric pathology, genetics, epigenetics, functional brain disorders, and impaired decision making. In current clinical practice, the predominant risk model is the medical model, which posits that treating suicide risk is primarily a matter of treating psychiatric disorders. However, even comprehensive risk factor models cannot overcome the basic problem that, by their nature, they cannot accommodate the suicidal person’s psychological experience of suicidality. Risk factor models do not translate into effective treatment models. Suicide risk is highly personal and fluid, and is related to individual vulnerabilities and to person-specific events triggering suicidal thoughts and actions. Clinicians need treatment models that are meaningful to suicidal patients. Understanding the single person’s suicidality requires a patient-centered approach. Therapeutic interventions that effectively reduce the risk of suicidal behavior have been developed from general principles of psychotherapy. Therapy process factors associated with effective therapies are working alliance, validation of the individual patient’s thoughts and feelings, active treatment engagement. Psychological therapies need patients who are active participants in a collaborative working relationship between therapist and patient. The goal must be to jointly develop a meaningful understanding of the suicidal crisis. In view of the limited personal resources in health care systems it is important that effective therapies are brief and effective. Future research must aim to improve our understanding of the factors involved in effective therapies in order to optimize treatments for individuals at risk. This may also include the integration of biological risk factors in psychological treatment models.
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