A Randomized Controlled Trial: Attachment-Based Family and Nondirective Supportive Treatments for Youth Who Are Suicidal


Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of attachment-based family therapy (ABFT) compared with a family-enhanced nondirective supportive therapy (FE-NST) for decreasing adolescents’ suicide ideation and depressive symptoms. Method: A randomized controlled trial of 129 adolescents who are suicidal ages 12- to 18-years-old (49% were African American) were randomized to ABFT (n = 66) or FE-NST (n = 63) for 16 weeks of treatment. Assessments occurred at baseline and 4, 8, 12, and 16 weeks. Trajectory of change and clinical recovery were calculated for suicidal ideation and depressive symptoms. Results: There was no significant between-group difference in the rate of change in self-reported ideation (Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire-Jr; F1,127 = 181, p = .18). Similar results were found for depressive symptoms. However, adolescents receiving ABFT showed a significant decrease in suicide ideation (t127 = 12.61, p < .0001; effect size, d = 2.24). Adolescents receiving FE-NST showed a similar significant decrease (t127 = 10.88, p < .0001; effect size, d = 1.93). Response rates (ie, ≥50% decrease in suicide ideation symptoms from baseline) at post-treatment were 69.1% for ABFT versus 62.3% for FE-NST. Conclusion: Contrary to expectations, ABFT did not perform better than FE-NST. The 2 treatments produced substantial decreases in suicidal ideation and depressive symptoms that were comparable to or better than those reported in other more intensive, multicomponent treatments. The equivalent outcomes could be attributed to common treatment elements, different active mechanisms, or regression to the mean. Future studies will explore long-term follow up, secondary outcomes, and potential moderators and mediators. Clinical trial registration information: Attachment-Based Family Therapy for Suicidal Adolescents; http://clinicaltrials.gov; NCT01537419.



suicide, depression, attachment, treatment