Taking Our Life: Suicide, Ecocide, and Daring to Live

by Fredric Matteson - CCT Founder

I recently learned of the production of author Shoshona Alexander's play, Taking Our Life. I'm deeply honored by Shoshona's inclusion of a scene and a song ("Crisis of Identity") that borrow directly from my Contextual-Conceptual Therapy material.

Shoshona, who lost her sister, Carol, to suicide, has woven her sister's presence into the fabric of the play. The play also addresses ecocide, and some of our communities most vulnerable to suicide, incorporating the stories of Chad, a homeless veteran, and Lily, the Native American woman who answers the phone when Chad calls into a suicide hotline.

Shoshana has helped ghost-write numerous Buddhist-inspired tomes - including my sister Adelaide Donnelley's Sorrow Mountain, my own forthcoming (still in process) Suicide Is Not About Killing Yourself, and Sharon Salazberg's LovingKindness

Go to www.gofundme.com/launching-my-new-play to donate! Taking Our Life is a new play that deals with themes of suicide and ecocide, and posits a connection between them. The play asks us to take our life and live it, to do what we are each uniquely called to do, for the sake of Life itself.

For those who might be interested, I thought I would share the above preview with you. Also for those of you following the continued new developments of CCT (www.SuicideTherapy.com) and for those of you in the Ashland, Oregon area where the debut of the play is upcoming on November 17, 18, 19. If you're interested in attending and/or supporting the play, please visit takingourlife.com for more information.

Copy of 10 "Radical" Questions about Suicide

by Fredric Matteson - CCT Founder

[“radical” = of or going to the root or origin of something]


“If you get rid of the pain before you have answered its questions, you get rid of the self along with it.”
~ Carl Jung

If for the moment, you could choose to not believe or disbelieve, how different would your thinking be? What new questions would you come up with, if for this moment you could “play” with   – i.e. become curious about – the following statements being true?


1.     The problem of suicide is not about illness, but about wellness?

2.     Suicide is not about what is “wrong with you” – but about what is “right with you?”         

3.     A suicidal person feels suicidal – not because the person is “unstable” – but because the person is “too stable?”

4.     Suicide is not about the person’s “worst” thinking – but about their “best” thinking?

5.     Suicide is not the problem – but a symptom of the problem?

6.     It’s not that they “don’t know the solution, but that they don’t know the problem?”

7.     Suicide is not due to a “mental illness” – but due to a “spiritual identity crisis?”

8.     Suicide is a context-bound problem? (i.e. What is the context or “big picture” of what is happening?)

9.     The suicidal person doesn’t need new answers. They need new questions?

10. Instead of getting more serious about suicide we need to get more playful?

                                       *     *     *     *     *

We need to be looking for new questions, not new answers.

The Psyche-Ache

Dr. Edwin S. Schneidman

Dr. Edwin S. Schneidman


by Fredric Matteson - CCT Founder

The idea of psyche-ache is from one of the founding fathers of suicidology in the US,  Edwin S. Shneidman, who died in 2009 at age 90.

Psycheache was Shneidman’s core concept to explain suicide and its underlying cause.*

Shneidman himself lamented how the concept was being lost by the prevalent medicalisation of suicide by psychiatry. He did not equate “being suicidal” as “being depressed.”

The original meaning of the word psyche is soul – so psycheache means aching soul, or a soul in pain.

* CCT posits that the “psychache” is itself a symptom of the bifurcated state the suicidal person is in.

The Suicidal Crisis is a crisis of meaning


by Fredric Matteson - CCT Founder

It has been said that no problem can be solved unless taken to the level of metaphor. The word "metaphor" comes from the Greek "meta", which means "beyond," and "pherein," which means "to carry." So metaphor has the capacity to carry or lift suicidal persons beyond their old understanding of their lives to an entirely new understanding.

The metaphoric language makes available information that was previously unavailable to the suicidal person as it guides the person from their old -- or habitual -- logic to a new logic. The word "solution" -- as in "solution to a problem" -- comes from the Latin "solvere" which means literally "to loosen."Metaphoric language, thus, provides suicidal persons that "loosening" necessary to escape staying stuck in their familiar identity, their old story about themselves.

By tapping their imagination through the use of metaphor, they can dissolve the rigid and literal thinking that defines them and enter a place of curiosity and wonder. From that new place with its new perspective, the suicidal person is now able to suspend their disbelief, suspend their expectation of the expected, to enter a new "uncertainty" to allow new associations to help surface new meanings about their self.

Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet, refers to this new sense of self when he writes: "What the poet is looking for is not the fundamental 'I' but the deep 'you'." My experience over the past 25 years, working with over 16,000 suicidal patients on the mental health unit of a major public hospital, has taught me that it is by their not being consciously aware of this discrepancy between what Machado would refer to as their fundamental (habitual) "I" and their authentic "deep you" that drives the suicidal pain. It is not the pain of their life but the pain of being cut off from their life -- the life of their "deep you" -- that makes them suicidal. The statement "I want to die" is a metaphor for "I want to live." The suicidal crisis is a spiritual crisis. It is a crisis of identity. It is a crisis of self. It is a crisis of meaning.

The Suicidal Moment can be a Great Opportunity


by Fredric Matteson - CCT Founder

It has been said that the word "Crisis" in Chinese is made up of two "radicals" or symbols: the first one means "Danger", the second one means "Opportunity." This means that if the context of the crisis is NOT known, the crisis can be very "dangerous" - but if the context of the crisis IS known, the crisis can be a tremendous "opportunity." Context is everything. No context, no meaning. Cognition cannot work without context.

Listen to Ireland CCT Associate Gitti Maas Describe the CCT Model


A creative, gifted, and warm-hearted counselor and CCT associate, Gitti Maas has been instrumental in bringing Contextual-Conceptual Therapy to Ireland. In 2014 she attended the annual World Suicide Prevention Day Conference in Dublin, Ireland, where CCT founder Fredric Matteson delivered the keynote address.

Gitti explains, "Matteson stood out from the rest of the presenters that day. He was the first professional in the field that I have met who was able to speak from the perspective of a suicidal person, expressing a true understanding of the suffering a suicidal person goes through. I was so moved and impressed by what I heard that I felt the need to find out more about CCT."

Gitti has since facilitated CCT trainings in Ireland with Matteson and his CCT colleagues, and also traveled to the US to study with Matteson at The Contextual-Conceptual Therapy Center in Seattle. Listen to the audio track below to hear Gitti talk, in depth, about the CCT model.

Suicide Therapy

Carolyn Wood - CCT Scotland

Carolyn Wood - CCT Scotland

by Carolyn Wood - CCT Scotland

The thrust of the CCT Level One Training workshop was that suicide is not something we need to medicalize and try ‘to get rid of’.  Instead we need to go where the person is—where they are trapped.  The client themselves directs us there, through their metaphoric language—their words/pictures/signals, and we, the therapist, need to hear, see and follow these, rather than ignore or treat them (the signals) as ‘madness’.

In CCT, suicide is seen as an identity crisis. The person is struggling between their two ‘selves’—who they are trying not to be (who think they are, as in the ‘bad’ person) and who they are trying to be (the ‘perfect’ or ‘good’ person).  But the reality is that neither is the TRUTH—they are based on intrapersonal views of what they believe to be their self.

The suicidal person is caught between these two states yet neither of these states are real—they are both part of the false self, the ‘you’.  The person struggles between these two, and at some point finds this impossible to live with. It is this that drives the person to want to kill their ‘self’, or what they believe to be their self.

What the person at this point is unable to see (and likewise, neither the family nor the clinicians—thus the “blindspot” from which the “blindsiding” happens) is that this “struggle” is with the split, or bifurcated, self and that their TRUE self is hidden beneath this struggle out of view. So when suicidal persons talk of feeling ‘lost’, ‘trapped’, ‘stuck’, or ‘being on another planet’—they actually do experience this TRUTH but they are initially unaware of the context that they are operating in. That is why suicide is seen as the only solution—‘the only way out’.  The suicidal person needs to understand the context they are operating in before they can understand the actual problem.

The beauty of this model is that it works with metaphors, myth and creativity to challenge the false self and welcome back the TRUE self.  Mythologist Daniel Deardorff, writing about Matteson’s work in “Suicide’s Untarnished Twin: The Paradox of Self & Soul”, says that when looking at the traditional cultures and initiation rites of passage, an elder guides the person into this area of the paradox—of the messy, dangerous, dark area—not ‘away’ from it; and through the person going into this place, a transformation happens and ‘re-birth’ occurs. This can be seen through other modalities where rituals and more traditionally cultural methods are drawn on, but which has not been brought into the health services of western cultures in regard to suicide.

So, with the CCT model the therapist does just this. Rather than trying to steer the person away from the pain, distress, suicide through soothing or sedation, the CCT therapist listens carefully to the person and goes into this confusion with them. Through entering into this confusion, the therapist works alongside the person both challenging and welcoming them.  In the process, the limited false self “dies”/is transformed and the true self is reborn.

Connect with Carolyn Wood

Suicide Therapy – An Interview with James Hayes

SUICIDE Therapy - An Interview with James Hayes
By Krysta Gibson | New Spirit Journal

This fascinating New Spirit Journal interview with James Hayes explores a different understanding and approach to suicide: a spiritually-based therapy which helps people reconnect with their own spirit.

James Hayes - CCT Seattle

James Hayes - CCT Seattle

Suicide Therapy is is based on the work of Fredric Matteson, Suicidologist. A mental health counselor for 35 years and trained by Matteson, James Hayes explains that suicide itself is not the problem. “It is the smoke off the fire. We’re talking about someone’s answer to an unknown problem. We have to separate the smoke from the fire. We’re trying to put context to someone else’s problem. If a building is burning down and the firemen show up and they blow all the smoke out of the way and then leave, have they solved the problem?” 

Many times we believe depression is the problem but he says that the issue is not always depression. We can find situations where people who were never depressed and never had any mental health problems commit suicide. 

This work, he says, is ”… all based on the patient’s information and their giving this information in a context where they can understand what they’re saying. The patient speaks in codes, in metaphor. If the person listening takes it literally, then the patient is going to look pretty messed up. They are trying to tell us what the problem is and what they need but if we take that information literally then we’re going to miss what they are saying to us.”

He continues, “They have to get to a place where they can say ‘I don’t know.’ They do know the answer but need help getting there. They don’t know what they know! They’ve deceived themselves and you can’t get out of deception on your own.” 

James adds “There’s an identity crisis where they do not know who they are. It’s an identity crisis where they became something they aren’t to protect something they are. They lose contact with their true self and become confident in the false self. These people are highly intelligent and they are the best manipulators in town. They manipulate themselves and then get other people to thinking there’s something wrong with them too.” 

There isn’t a lot of help for this issue. If you go to the hospital, they’ll label you bi-polar, James explains. They don’t help people with a group, information, classes, or education.

The patients are the creators of this work, he says. They teach us how to help them. “I have boxes of letters thanking me. Patients thank me for saving their life. I ask, ‘How did I save your life? I was never going to kill you. I loved you from the start.’” 

Suicide Therapy takes a very spiritual – not religious – approach since it is a spiritual disconnect that is the core problem. This therapy helps people reconnect with their own spirit.  

A very interesting statistic James shared is that when a parent commits suicide the chances of the child commiting suicide is 56%.

To learn more about this work listen to this entire interview and visit www.suicidetherapy.com or call 206-550-3961.

97.3 KIRO FM Radio Interview w/ host Linda Thomas & the CCT Team

By Linda Thomas | Seattle's Morning News | 97.3 KIRO FM

Junior Seau’s apparent suicide stunned sports fans and former teammates who recalled the former NFL star’s ferocious tackles and habit of calling everyone around him “Buddy.”

It also left people wondering what led to Seau’s death, an apparent suicide at the age of 43.

An autopsy report expected today probably won’t give family members the explanation they’re looking for.

We all want answers after a suicide.

James Hayes has been a local mental health therapist for 30 years, and he can’t count the number of times he’s heard things like this:

“I’m looking for something, but I’m not sure what.” “I feel like I have been swallowed by an avalanche.” “The real me dissolved into thin air. “I don’t know how to get back to myself.”

His colleague Fredric Matteson, at Contextual Conceptual Therapy, based on Bainbridge Island, has studied 16,000 suicidal patients. Depression and mental illness are not the main triggers for suicide.

“After I started listening to this many people I started to see a through line. It’s a commonality or a trend that speaks to every situation that I find, and it wasn’t about them having bi-polar or depression,” says Matteson.

The “through line” is that suicidal people don’t see themselves the way the world sees them.

“They’re in this place, inside this avalanche of emotion, and they can’t locate themself,” he says the suicidal people he’s studied have all managed to create a divide in their personality. He calls it a “bifurcated” state.

There’s the person everyone else sees, who generally seems normal and might even appear outgoing and happy. Then there’s the true self, the one who deals with all the painful feelings of abandonment, depression, and any other extreme negative thoughts. That’s the person they hide from the world.

“The best place to hide something is to not be present,” says Matteson. “If I’m not here I can’t be hurt, but if I’m not here I can’t be in love either. I can’t be in a relationship. I can’t have true success. I can’t sustain success. I’m this split place here.”

People who are suicidal try to cut themselves off from their emotions. They’re really in a “lost place” where they are trying to get out of their pain without understanding where the pain comes from.

Mental health therapist Jason Moran says someone who says they’re suicidal is actually closer to a breakthrough than anyone realizes.

“It’s not that something’s wrong with me, something is trying to be right with me here, and I need to uncover what that is. What is this phenomenon that’s keeping them from seeing who they really are?” says Moran. “Once they understand that and can begin to see what you see, the suicidal feelings drop.”

The take away from their years of research is this: We need to talk about suicide more, not less. That’s the beginning of helping people deal with the disconnect between who they think they are and the person the world sees.


Bainbridge Island Review - Western Washington Regional Newspaper - USA

Bainbridge Therapist Shows Light Side of Suicide - by Connie Mears

bainbridge review thumbnail.jpg

Fredric Matteson has worked with 16,000 suicidal people and he has some sobering statistics: More people in the US military die from suicide than from enemy fire. Death by suicide outnumbers AIDS-related deaths, two to one. Every 15.2 minutes someone in the U.S. commits suicide. Every minute in this country somebody tries suicide.

That’s a serious issue, and yet, it’s a subject that many people don’t want to talk about.

Even talking about it in a local cafe Monday drew attention from neighboring tables. The room suddenly got quiet as the animated Matteson explained his method of treatment.

By his own account, his approach is part Robert DeNiro – “You talkin’ to me?” – and part Mother Teresa. Throw in a little Robin Williams riff and you begin to get a picture of Matteson’s high-energy approach.

“Lets’ not not talk about it,” he said. “Let’s bring some hope.”

In his 23-year career, Matteson, founder of Contextual-Conceptual Therapy, has seen a common pattern in those who contemplate or attempt suicide, and he’ll share those insights in a free two-hour talk at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Commons.

“I’m trying to celebrate – not suicide, but a moment – a great moment,” he said. That moment is an opportunity to break the pattern that has kept the suicidal person in a double-bind often for most of their life.

“Suicide is a symptom,” Matteson said.

Many suicidal persons have had years of counseling, hospitalizations, and medication but say they feel better for awhile but then feel twice as suicidal the next time they are in crisis, he said. What this indicates is that an underlying problem keeps changing form but never changes.

His talk, “Suicide is Not About Killing Yourself: Guiding the Suicidal Person Using Maps, Models and Metaphors,” describes the counter-intuitive approach he’s developed that doesn’t just stop the suicide attempt, but reorients the person toward true well-being.

Matteson draws on his unique experience as a poet to use “maps, models and metaphors” to help the suicidal client bypass their logic and find a way to “escape” the pain that is causing them to be suicidal.

He is sensitive to etymology that offers clues into the person’s inner terrain.

Even the word “clue” itself is loaded with significant meaning in the journey to wellness.

Matteson said “clue” came from the Latin word meaning “a ball of thread or yarn.” He connects the dots to the myth of Theseus who used a string as a guide out of the Labyrinth. The string can be followed, providing the client with more information. And it is more information that the suicidal person desperately needs, he said.

Most, he said, are highly intelligent, stubborn, sensitive people. They aren’t bad. They aren’t crazy. They simply lack very important information that will put everything they already know into new perspective.

What they need is context, he said.

Metaphorically, Matteson uses a suicidal person’s loved one as a tuning fork to recalibrate the patient, finding self-empathy “in tune with” the empathy they hold for others.

The suicidal person is locked in a high-contrast mindset of black-and-white thinking. They can spend years in a closed loop between two constructed personas – the Rock Star and the Piece of “you know what,” Matteson said.

The construct was useful at the time it was created, generally to cope with severe grief or abandonment. But it leads to a false dilemma, he said, because the person’s true identity is neither of those extremes.

Matteson uses metaphors and interactive exercises to find the solution – another word Matteson gets excited about.

It’s from the Latin word solutionem which means “a loosening or unfastening.”

The informal talk and discussion is moderated by Linda Wolf, Bainbridge Island author and founder of Teen Talking Circles and Brian C. Riedesel, Ph.D., counseling psychologist based at the American School of Professional Psychology, Associate Professor at Argosy University, Seattle and the University of Utah.

James Hayes and Jason Moran, both CCT associates, will co-present.

People who are curious about suicide; who know or work with someone who is suicidal; parents, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, and mental health professionals are invited to attend.

For more information about Fredric Matteson and his work, visit www.contextualconceptualtherapy.com.


Press Release: University of Essex, Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies

Press Release:

University of Essex, Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies (CPS); North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, (NEPFT) and Care Services Improvement Partnership, (CSIP).

press release Essex Thumbnail.jpg

"..The principle theme and discussion at the conference centered on a completely new approach to working with suicidal individuals being pioneered in Seattle called CCT – Contextual-Conceptual Therapy.”  

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