Often done in response to extreme emotional turmoil, self-harm refers to the intentional damage or injury on a person’s own body. People who self-harm often report a desire to punish themselves or release overwhelming tension built up over a period of time.
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The rise of social media has helped to promote the awareness of such an intensely private issue, by allowing people with a tendency to self-harm to highlight their struggle. It is believed that around 10% of young people will self-harm, although it is an issue which affects people of all ages, and not all people who self-harm go on to seek help.
Priory understands that the problems experienced as a result of self-harming can be very distressing. This is why our nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres offer flexible treatment programmes to fit around school, work and other commitments. Talking therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) conducted by trained therapists can help you to learn coping techniques to understand and manage issues causing self-harm.
It is believed that over half of the people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm, and the behaviour can sometimes be a ‘cry for help’, or an expression of distress. This can occur if you have been unable to get your problems across through conventional means of communication, or you have an underlying psychological disorder which causes you to self-harm.
Social problems, trauma and psychological causes can all contribute to acts of self-harm, as each of these factors can lead to feelings of anger, guilt or self-loathing. The lack of a suitable support network and people that you can rely on for help and advice, can lead to self-harm feeling like the only way to release such intense emotions.
For this reason, it is important to remember that help & support is available at Priory, with evidence-based therapeutic techniques allowing you to work through why you feel the need to self-harm and help you to manage these feelings, all within a safe and understanding environment.
Treatment for self-harm at Priory
The type and length of self-harm treatment will depend on your individual circumstances and the severity and complexity of your condition. Some people are treated as outpatients, which means they come to Priory for hourly sessions with their psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist.
Others require a more structured treatment approach, which can include staying at one of our Priory hospitals for the duration of their treatment where they take part in the psychological group programme as well as regular sessions with their consultant.
Successful self-harm support includes the development of positive coping mechanisms, the reduction of any underlying stress that you may have, learning healthy communication skills and helping to regulate your emotions. Self-harm help and therapy may involve group work, individual work, family therapy, and talking therapies, alongside prescribed medication if you have co-existing mental health conditions such as depression. There will be a range of specialist counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists providing an all-encompassing treatment programme which may include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Talking therapies such as CBT involve discussing your thoughts and feelings on a confidential one-to-one basis with a therapist. You will develop further understanding of how your emotions contribute to a desire to self-harm, and how this can be managed in a more positive way through coping mechanisms to stop your behaviours from impacting your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
DBT is a talking therapy which is similar to CBT and has been adapted to help people who experience intense emotions that negatively affect their mental or physical health. The therapy works by focusing on accepting who you are and challenging any thoughts of self-hatred which can be a catalyst for self-harm, and encourages a dialogue with you and the therapist to work towards motivating you to make the changes for yourself to help you feel better.
Particularly effective when trying to reduce the feelings of anxiety or depression that may be associated with self-harm, as well as a wide range of other mental health problems, psychodynamic therapy involves discussing how your past experiences might be affecting how you feel in the present day. By making connections between significant events or periods in your life, you can begin to make positive changes to affect how you are feeling in the present, as opposed to dwelling on previous experiences.
If you have an older child or teenager who is prone to self-harming, then family therapy provides the opportunity to improve lines of communication, helping you to learn how best to support them and understand what they are going through during what is a difficult time in their lives.
The chances of a positive outcome for self-harm recovery happens by establishing a trusting relationship between yourself and clinicians at Priory, providing treatment for any existing mental health issues that may be contributing to your desire to self-harm, as well as help and support from family and friends. Priory has over 25 years’ experience in helping to treat people who self-harm. We recognise that everyone's self-harm recovery is different, which is why we ensure that everyone has a unique treatment plan tailored to their needs.
Many people who visit Priory’s services as an inpatient due to serious self-harming go back into their communities with a significant reduction in their chances of self-harming in the future, providing a platform for continued happiness and wellbeing.
This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Adrian Lord (MBBS) in August 2020, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in August 2022. To view all Priory self-harm specialists, please click here.
To find out how Priory can help you in the treatment of self-harm and return to a positive and fulfilling way of life, call our dedicated team today on 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please complete our enquiry form.