What is Self Injury?
Self-injury, also referred to as self-abuse, self-mutilation, and self-harm, is an often misunderstood and a misdiagnosed problem. Having studied this disorder for over ten years and worked with over three hundred cases of those who have a current or past history of self-injuring, I have developed a clinical approach that has benefited a majority of those cases. I have a thorough working knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of this unhealthy coping skill. Due to my expertise in this field, I have been referred to as the “guru” and “local expert” on the topic for the DFW area. I have also given over 60 presentations on this topic at a wide variety of venues including two State Conferences.
Individuals who participate in this harmful coping skill may also struggle with the following issues: depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, perfectionism/control issues, anxiety disorders, anger management, assertiveness problems, and have an abuse history (physical, emotional, and/or sexual).
What Parents Need To Know
A parent’s first reaction to learning about this issue may be anger, confusion, sadness, or hurt. It is important that the parent seek assistance from a professional who has experience and training in dealing with this issue before he/she confronts their child about their actions. Over the years, I have advised parents as to how to approach the topic with their child, how to react to the news of this behavior, how to help their child find and practice better coping skills, educate them on the role of family therapy, and assist them with finding the right treatment modality for their child. I also encourage parents not to get into a “power play” with their kids over self-injury or to use bribery to get them to stop. These techniques may increase the injuring or make the child want to hide it that much more. You can’t force someone to stop injurying. It is also important to note that the self-injury isn’t about the parent, it is the child’s decision and they must take responsibility for their actions and their recovery. It is not to say that the injurer is acting without provocation, as parents may influence the occurence of injurying through their actions and words.
There are many possible consequences to not seeking therapy for your child. First, the behavior of self-injuring may increase in frequency and intensity. Secondly, the child may end up seriously injuring themselves. Thirdly, the child may go to other unhealthy outlets as a way to cope if the core issue(s) is/are not addressed. Fourthly, the parent’s anxiety and stress levels may increase as this problem goes unaddressed. It may become the proverbial “elephant in the living room” that no one wants to deal with either out of denial, fear, anger, hurt, or other emotional reasons. Fifthly, the child may be tormented at school by his peers or teachers once knowledge of this behavior becomes public. Lastly, the child may continue to self-injure into adulthood. Self-injury may go away on its own, but do you want to take that gamble? The injury can become addictive, injurers do build tolerances to the pain, thus the need to make the cuts deeper, the burns longer, or the hitting more intense until they feel the relief that they are craving. Ms. Vann’s book, A Caregiver’s Guide to Self-injury, is an invaluable resource for parents; it is an easy-to-read and understand book that addresses the most pressing questions caregivers have regarding this behavior and is filled with important tips to try to prevent possible mistakes that may make matters worse for the person who injures.
Important Things to Know About Self-Injury
- It is not done for attention seeking; those that do it for attention seeking have others issues that must be addressed.
- It is not a suicide attempt, often times it is a preventative of suicide.
- Taking away all of the knives or other tools does not work. From my years of experience with this topic, I have consistently found that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” to self-harm.
- Self-harm is often a way for the person to communicate their feelings or the chaos that they feel inside.
- Self-injury or self-mutilation is treatable, and counseling is a part of that treatment.
iTunes Psych Sessions Interview 2015 https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/psych-sessions-your-practical/id737338436?mt=2
YouTube Tips and Info with Lori Vann, LPCS—these are just a few of the videos from my YouTube Channel, SUBSCRIBE to get updates when I post new interviews or tips.
Help with self-injury, the intro video:
Is Self-injury More Prevalent Now?
Definition of self-injury & myths debunked:
Celebrities who injure:
5 out of 17 Tips for dealing with self-injury, excerpts from the book:
Self-injury in 5th Graders
Interview with 2 women who self-harm
Working with injury is a process, it is not overnight, there will be relapses, but the injurer must ultimately be the one who decides to stop on their own for it to work. Initial goals are decrease the frequency of the injuries and to decrease the intensity of them. “Wins” are when she has gone new amount of time without injurying, when she resists the urge to injure, if she decides to delay the injury by trying some of the coping skills, if the injuries are less severe than before, etc. Abstinence is the goal, but how you get there is a different approach with each person. Treating self-injury is not treated in the same way as other issues.
For those who do not have insurance or can’t afford their co-pay and need individual counseling, Lori Vann and all of her Interns at Vann Counseling Associates offer therapy for those who self-injure at a reduced rate. The interns are under my direct supervision and assist with the self-injury groups. It is like getting two counselors for less than the price of one private fee visit.