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.

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.