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Study: LivingWorks ASIST program reduces suicidality for callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

January 28, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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A study by researchers from Columbia and Rochester Universities has confirmed that Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), a workshop developed by LivingWorks Education Inc., can help protect people experiencing suicidal thoughts.

The study, Impact of ASIST on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, monitored more than 1,500 phone calls to Lifeline-affiliated crisis centers across the United States and found that callers who spoke with ASIST-trained counselors were less likely to be depressed, overwhelmed and suicidal, and more likely to be hopeful than callers who spoke with counselors who were trained in methods other than ASIST. The greatest impact was seen in suicidality, where callers to ASIST-trained counselors were 74% less likely to be suicidal at the end of the call than were callers to counselors not trained in ASIST.

"This is the first study of its kind," said Dr. Philip Rodgers, an evaluation scientist who consults with LivingWorks. "Previous inquiries into the effectiveness of suicide prevention training have always looked at the trainees and whether they felt better equipped to intervene. This research actually examined people at risk of suicide, and showed that when they get help from an ASIST-trained counselor, it can significantly improve outcomes."

The study was also noteworthy for its methodology, Rodgers said. "The researchers monitoring the calls did not know what kind of training the counselors had, and the counselors didn't know if they were being monitored. This increased the validity of the results."

Dr. Madelyn Gould led the independent study funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Although the research was the first to investigate ASIST's impact on crisis center callers, the ASIST model has been in use for over thirty years. Developed in 1983 and evaluated in a number of other settings, it has seen continuous updates to reflect new developments in psychology and counseling theory.

"We were delighted to learn that evaluation findings showed our efforts to offer ASIST training to Lifeline centers appear to be making some difference in helping callers feel less distressed and suicidal," said Dr. John Draper, Project Director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. "What the findings clarify about the value of the ASIST model is how it can enhance a meaningful connection with suicidal callers."

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