This page was reviewed by Sabrina Di Mauro (BA, MSc), counselling psychologist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove.
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.
Starting Self-Harm Recovery
Admitting that a self-harm problem exists is the first step to recovery. Whether it's reaching out for help on a helpline, speaking to a GP or confiding in family and friends, talking about the problem will begin the recovery process. Our Priory experts have extensive experience in helping to treat people who self-harm. We will help you to identify the causes and triggers for your self-harming behaviours, and teach you healthier ways to cope with anxiety or any other negative emotions. In addition, we recognise that everyone's self-harm recovery is different, which is why we ensure that everyone has a treatment plan that's tailored to their needs.
Many people who receive inpatient treatment due to serious self-harming are able to return home with a significant reduction in their chances of self-harming in the future, providing a platform for continued happiness and wellbeing.
How is Self-Harm Treated?
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 to help ease the symptoms of self-harm. These treatment programmes may include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and psychodynamic therapy.
Repeated self-harm can become like an addiction. DBT may be appropriate for those who have recurrent episodes of self-harm and require a psychological intervention. DBT is a form of CBT that focuses on impulse control and managing emotions. It aims to equip you with different skills and tools to use when you’re having strong urges to self-harm, helping you to regulate distress and manage difficult emotions. The four elements of DBT are mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness skills. A harm-minimisation approach may be useful for young people who self-harm recurrently; this can help to manage scarring and help those who feel compelled to self-harm stay as safe as possible. DBT provides a structured support, with a combination of group and individual sessions. With adequate and functional skills, you will be able to tolerate distress and seek helpful tools to moderate your stress reactions.
After developing safe intervention for ligaturing assessment score (SILAS), Priory patients and staff have been able to treat and manage self-harm more effectively.
"Since we started this initiative, the need for restraint following this form of self-harm has significantly reduced and consequently patient and staff injuries have also reduced."
If you have recognised that you have a problem and are ready to begin your journey to becoming well again, there are some suggested steps that you can take, in order to help you to stop self-harming:
- Confide in someone and accept that you need help. Once you feel ready to talk, it can be a huge relief to let go of the secret that you may have been trying to hide. Asking for help is an important first step in recovery.
- Recognise your personal triggers. As self-harm is often a way of coping with difficult and intense emotional pain, it is important to recognise in yourself which feelings drive your desire to self-harm, whether these are feelings of sadness, shame, guilt, anger or loneliness.
- Try alternative, less damaging ways to release tension. Squeezing ice cubes, taking a cold shower, eating a hot chilli, or drawing on yourself with red pen may all be alternatives to self-harm. Be creative and find what helps you.
- Learn new ways to cope. When a trigger has been recognised, it is important to find alternative methods of dealing with it. These can include engaging in creative activities including painting, writing and music, exercising, bathing and talking to someone, whether this is a friend or relative, therapist or on a relevant online forum.
- Make a 'self-soothe' kit. This could be a box, bag, or tin of objects/activities that are meaningful to you and focus on sensory experiences that soothe you, e.g. objects that feel nice or unusual, smell good or remind you of positive things. These may be pictures, music play lists, puzzles, colouring in, nail varnish etc. Collect items together that you can go to in an emergency.
Self-Harm Guidance for Parents
If you suspect your child is self-harming, there are some signs of self-harm to look out for. If you notice any of these signs, you can speak to your child or consult with a GP to find out the next appropriate steps to take. Parents of a young person who self-harms can often be confused and frightened. You may struggle to understand why your child is doing it, and wonder whether there is anything you could have done to stop it.
In most cases, while self-harm may indicate serious distress, it is not a suicide attempt. Try to listen to what they are saying and understand what is going on. Don't jump to conclusions. Don't be afraid to ask for help or to take your child for help. It is something that can be addressed together.
We understand that self-harm and the overwhelming emotions that lead to the behaviour can severely affect your mental health and ability to function in daily life. Early diagnosis and treatment of the condition at Priory can help you or a loved one learn ways of coping with underlying feelings of stress, anxiety or depression, so you can regain control over your life without feeling the urge to injure yourself.
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 0330 056 6020 . For professionals looking to make a referral, please complete our enquiry form.
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