Partner Suicide: Processing Trauma, Grief, and Loss Using Response Art

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Bulone, Philip
Master of Arts in Art Therapy
Suicide loss survivors are 64% more likely to attempt suicide, and 80% more likely to quit their jobs or drop out of school compared to those who have suffered sudden loss to a death by a natural cause. Additionally, partner suicide loss survivors (PSLS) are at a higher risk for suicide themselves when compared to spouses grieving another cause of death, especially men. There is a need to understand how PSLS process their trauma, grief, and loss. My lived experience as a PSLS and art therapy graduate student coincided. This autobiographical heuristic study explored how using response art helped me learn new understandings after my fiancé’s suicide. Ten response art pieces made in response to fifteen Pre-Study Artifacts and reflection journal entries served as the data. The heuristic arts-based Rx6 method applied art to meaning-making. Prompts from the Rx6 method phases, (1) relate, (2) resonate, (3) respond, (4) reflect, (5) results, and (6) react, guided response art-making and reflection journal entries. Core theme statements were derived through a constant comparative analysis process grounded in the Meaning of Loss Codebook and the Expressive Therapies Continuum frameworks. A conceptual therapeutic approach model for PSLS was created from synthesized conclusions. The model included soul integration work at its core driven by four therapy interventions consistent in my lived experience: (1) narrative-based interventions (2) spiritual-based interventions, (3) forgiveness-based interventions, and (4) arts- based interventions. This model might further inform art therapy and counseling approaches and specialized support service development programs for PSLS.