Suicidology is defined in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as "The study of suicide, suicidal behavior, and suicide prevention" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000) and a suicidologist can be defined as a professional who studies suicide (Maris, 1993).
The main objective of my doctoral dissertation is to record an oral history of contemporary suicidology as narrated by several key suicidologists who have devoted their professional lives to the field of suicidology. To complete the oral history, I interviewed six suicidologists who were pivotal in the history of and perpetuation of suicidology as a social science discipline. They are: Drs. Edwin Shneidman, Norman Farberow, Robert Litman, Jerome Motto, Bruce Bongar, and Marsha Linehan.
This dissertation is not an attempt to provide new etiological theories into suicidal behavior; nor is it an attempt to endorse, criticize, or amend the existing theories, interventions, or postvention strategies currently offered. Rather, this dissertation attempts to gain insight into suicidology by looking at a suicidologist's narrative. My hypothesis is in order to better understand suicidology, one must become acquainted with the personology of the suicidologist. And by looking through their lens, we may gain a deeper appreciation of the complexity and frailty of the human spirit that is contemplating death.
Adhering closely to the oral history biography methodology, the results in this dissertation are in the form of recorded interviews. These interviews were filmed and edited into a 90-minute educational DVD that narrates a contextual history of the field and situates several critical questions for its future. The complete DVD accompanies this disseration and can be found within the binder.
The major conclusions of this dissertation are: (1) suicide is a philosophical problem; (2) the experienced suicidologist is only able to sustain a life-long career in treating the suicidal largely due to their acceptance that they can only do so much; (3) the contemporary suicidologist has a deep and unyielding devotion to treating the suicidal; (4) contemporary suicidology flourished as the result of some monumental coincidences; (5) all of the participating suicidologists agreed that a common thread of those in a suicidal crisis are those who are without a sense of connection to something great than themselves, like God or religion, or who have a lost a sense of connection to family, friends, or their community; and finally (6) for various reasons the field does not produce enough treatment-based research.