Last Words: Analysis of Suicide Notes from an RECBT Perspective: An Exploratory Study

  • Drew Coster
  • David LesterEmail author
Original Article


A sample of 86 suicide notes was analyzed to identify the common cognitive and emotional themes contained in the text from a rational-emotive and cognitive behavior therapy (RECBT) perspective. Using grounded theory and statistical analysis to examine the data, this study found that the most frequent emotional categories to be present in these suicide notes are autonomous depression, sociotropic depression, guilt, shame, hurt and anger. It was also discovered that men, more than women, are likely to write about their experience of guilt in their suicide notes at the end of a relationship, while women are more likely to express feelings of hurt. This study may enable RECBT practitioners to better understand the cognitive and emotional factors of suicide behavior, and it may encourage future research into more specific suicide prevention protocols.


Suicide notes Rational-emotive therapy Depression Guilt Shame Anger 


  1. Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., Kovacs, M., & Garrison, B. (1985). Hopelessness and eventual suicide: A 10-year prospective study of patients hospitalized with suicidal ideation. American Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 559–563.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bjerg, K. (1967). The suicidal life space: Attempts at reconstruction from suicide notes. In E. Shneidman (Ed.), Essays in self-destruction (pp. 475–493). New York: Science House, Inc.Google Scholar
  3. Burns, D., & Persons, J. (1982). Hope and hopelessness. In L. E. Abt & I. R. Stuart (Eds.), The newer therapies (pp. 33–57). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.Google Scholar
  4. Chynoweth, R. (1977). The significance of suicide notes. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 11, 197–200.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dryden, W. (2009). Understanding emotional problems: The REBT perspective. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Dryden, W., & Branch, R. (2008). Fundamentals of rational emotive behaviour therapy. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  7. Ellis, A. (1989). Using rational-emotive therapy (RET) as crisis intervention. Individual Psychology, 45, 75–81.Google Scholar
  8. Ellis, A., & Ellis, T. E. (2006). Suicide from the perspective of rational emotive behavior theory. In T. E. Ellis (Ed.), Cognition and suicide: Theory, research and therapy (pp. 75–90). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Emery, G., Hollon, S. D., & Bedrosian, R. C. (1981). New directions in cognitive therapy. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  10. Glaser, B. G. (1978). Theoretical sensitivity. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gunn, J. F., Lester, D., Haines, J., & Williams, C. L. (2012). Thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness in suicide notes. Crisis, 33, 178–181.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Ho, T. P., Yip, P. S., Chiu, C. W., & Halliday, P. (1998). Suicide notes: What do they tell us? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 98, 467–473.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2005). Why people die by suicide. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Leenaars, A. A. (1987). An empirical investigation of Shneidman’s formulations regarding suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 17, 233–250.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Leenaars, A. A. (1988). Suicide notes: Predictive clues and patterns. New York: Human Sciences.Google Scholar
  16. Lester, D. (1989). Questions and answers about suicide. Philadelphia: The Charles Press.Google Scholar
  17. Lester, D. (2001). An inventory to measure helplessness, hopelessness, and haplessness. Psychological Reports, 89, 495–498.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Lester, D. (2005). Absolutism in the diary of a suicide. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 101, 498.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Linehan, M. M. (1986). Suicidal people: One population or two? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 487, 16–33.Google Scholar
  20. Linn, M., & Lester, D. (1996). Content differences in suicide notes by gender and age. Psychological Reports, 78, 370.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McCallin, A. M. (2003). Designing a grounded theory study: Some practicalities. Nursing in Critical Care, 8, 203–208.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Osgood, C., & Walker, E. G. (1959). Motivation and language behavior. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 58–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Peck, D. (1980–1981). Towards a theory of suicide. Omega, 11, 1–14.Google Scholar
  24. Sato, T., & McCann, D. (2007). Sociotropy-autonomy and interpersonal problems. Depression and Anxiety, 24, 153–162.Google Scholar
  25. Shneidman, E. S., & Farberow, N. L. (1957). The logic of suicide. In E. S. Shneidman & N. L. Farberow (Eds.), Clues to suicide (pp. 31–40). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  26. Spiegel, D., & Neuringer, C. (1963). Role of dread in suicidal behavior. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 507–511.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Strauss, A. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Wessler, R. A., & Wessler, R. L. (1980). The principles and practice of rational-emotive therapy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  30. World Health Organization. (2002). Self-directed violence. World Report on Violence and Health. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Riachard Stockton College of New JerseyGallowayUSA
  2. 2.Goldsmiths, University of LondonNew CrossUK

Personalised recommendations