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Self-Harm Counseling and Treatment

Self-Harm Counseling and Treatment

Self-harm or self-injury is any sort of behavior that results in the person hurting themselves. This can be cutting, pulling hair, burning skin, or other ways of causing pain. When you see someone practicing self-harm you might think, why would a person do that? Or, if you have experienced self-harm yourself, then you might ask - why am I doing this?

People self-harm or engage in self-injurious behaviors for a number of reasons. It might be a distraction from more emotionally painful feelings or states. It can serve as a distraction. Individuals may self-harm to feel numb. Experts, therapists, counselors, psychotherapists, and other mental health professionals see self-harm the same way they see other addictions. Mental health services such as free online support groups through various online platforms can help provide support for mental health issues that may cause a person to self-harm. Online therapy chat on 7 Cups is one form of professional help that is available. 7 Cups is also available as a mobile app alongside a website that can be easily accessed. Apart from affordable online therapy options, 7 Cups also has trained active listeners for live chat support, several chat rooms for group support, community forum threads, as well as other features and resources accessible to both adults and teens.

Usually, when a person is struggling with an addiction, they use a substance use or engage in a behavior to get a sense of relief. Take drinking alcohol for example - if I’m having a fight with my partner and I feel like I can’t cope, then I might take a drink to temporarily feel better. Some experts and therapists believe the same thing happens with cutting, self-harm, or self-injury. The pain is overwhelming so the person self-harms to escape the pain. Hurting oneself can also release endorphins which can also help to provide further numbing.

Treatment with a therapist, counselor, or psychotherapist often consists of replacing self-harm or self-injury as a coping mechanism with other coping mechanisms that are better. For example, instead of cutting myself, I might instead wear an elastic around my wrist and then snap myself whenever I feel overwhelmed. It offers a similar process of relief but is nowhere near as risky or damaging.

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What Causes It?

The first step in coping with self-harm is identifying what causes this behavior in an individual. Self-harm, self-injury, or behaviors like cutting or burning are often a result of overwhelming emotions. The person feels like life is crashing down around them and they need some way to better cope. Cutting can pull the person away from the overwhelming feelings momentarily, but it comes at a high cost. Studies also show that individuals who face bipolar disorder or major depression can present with self-injury or self-harm as symptoms or coping techniques. Other mental health conditions such as social anxiety or symptoms such as depression symptoms or panic attacks can cause individuals to be more prone to self-harm.

Types of Self Injury

One good way to think of self-injury is to consider it along a spectrum. There can be mild, moderate, or severe ways of self-harm. Broadly, the goal is to reduce self-harm so that the person is choosing healthier and more adaptive ways of coping. Common types of self-harm include cutting one's arms or legs, burning skin, or the person hitting themselves.

It Can Often Be Used as a Coping Skill

Self-harm or self-injury is used as a way of coping with deep emotional pain or overwhelming feelings. It is important to keep in mind that self-harm, like most other harmful coping skills, have a good intention. The person practicing them wants to feel better. They are in pain and are trying to get to a better spot. Self-harm may provide them with a sense of control over other overwhelming situations or difficulties. Individuals who self-harm may not feel supported by their peers and may use self-injury to release their feelings instead of venting or seeking support. The end goal of feeling better, safer, and grounded is a very good goal. The way of getting there is where the challenges lie. Like with most addictions, the relief is just temporary and it ends up taking more from the person than it promises. These challenges can increase or compound with time.

This is why it is very important to take action to learn new, healthier, coping skills and techniques. New paths or roads that get a person to a better spot only help and do not take away. Talk therapy, as well as other therapeutic interventions, help a person regain hope as well as a sense of purpose towards happiness while recovering from self-harm and other negative coping skills that can accompany several mental illnesses.

Is it the Same as Suicidal Intent?

Self-harm or cutting is not the same as having suicidal intent. People can die by suicide by deliberately cutting their wrists, so the behavior might look the same, but by and large, the person is self-injuring to disassociate from pain. The American Psychological Association (APA) has reported that self-injury is generally and clinically characterized as non-suicidal self-injury, although individuals who repeatedly use varying self-injury behaviors are more likely to present with suicidal thoughts over time. Thus, all self-harming behavior should be taken seriously. If a person cuts deep then they should seek medical attention. Also, if a person is struggling with suicidal thoughts then they should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help immediately. They have caring people there 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The number is 1-800-273-8255. People can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 if they feel uncomfortable talking on the phone.

Healing From Self-Harm

You can definitely find healing from self-harm. It mostly comes down to a way of finding new ways of understanding yourself, your emotions, and developing more effective coping mechanisms. Therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists can be a very big help here and are highly recommended. You can also find a free self-help guide here on 7 Cups: 7 Cups also offers free access to emotional support for self-harm on our mental health platform. Online therapy is also available. Licensed therapists can address depression, anxiety, as well as any other mental health conditions, and provide other helpful information through this service. Counselors use different therapeutic modalities to help. Some use Rogerian therapy, other dialectical behavior therapy and most use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in sessions. Other professional counselors or clinical social workers including family therapists emphasize the role of marriage or other factors such as stress and the daily life of individual patients.

At 7 Cups, the therapists chat directly with clients via online therapy chat on our online counseling and online therapy platform. At present, phone calls or live video sessions are not available nor is any health insurance accepted. Teen counseling is also currently unavailable. Users are welcome to browse therapist profiles with information such as the hours of clinical experience and therapist focuses as well as user reviews. The fees of therapy, however, is quite affordable at $150/month for unlimited messaging therapy with a licensed therapist. A free trial is available to explore the online therapy program, allowing users to determine whether the service meets their specific needs. The ability to work with a trusted professional and gain tips, support, as well as a sense of progress can motivate an individual to discuss and find other ways to cope with a problem.

The Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of self-harm may be similar to the symptoms of depression, a common condition that can also cause a person to self-harm. A person may lose weight or present with noticeable changes in energy levels. The physical symptoms are also largely the consequences of what happens when a person self-harms. This can include cuts, bruises, or burns on their skin. A medical doctor, nurse, or other medical staff can recognize these signs during other medical check-ups, or these physical symptoms may be noticed by teachers or other individuals. Some individuals may present changes in their body language and general behavior. Children may not be able to focus at school and their grades might be affected. If you are a parent or caregiver then these types of symptoms can be very concerning. The key thing to keep in mind is that your child or the person you care for is likely trying to find a way to cope with what feels like an overwhelming amount of feelings. Helping them find a good therapist or counselor can be a helpful step in their recovery process. The internet can be a helpful tool to explore websites, online forums, and other helpful resources during this time. Anonymous sites like 7 Cups can help offer privacy alongside a wide range of supportive, free-to-use features as well as peers to interact with.

Dealing with a Reliance on Self-Injury Through Psychotherapy

There are many clinicians that focus on helping people overcome self-injury or self-harming behaviors by providing mental health support. Broadly, the expertise area most focused on this space is Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The key focus here is on grounding, seeing things across a spectrum (rather than black and white), and finding new ways to cope. Therapists and counselors will work closely with the client to help them better understand their feelings in a safe space and how they might be jumping to worst-case scenarios in their initial assessment of the situation. Helping the person learn how to breathe, take a step back, and cope will be the key focus of treatment.

Therapists also use other interventions and strategies to help an individual cope with their fears, challenges, or trauma that may have caused them to self-harm. They may use questions to ask patients about a person's mood, relationships, as well as any other life experiences to help them seek alternative coping tools.

While therapy sessions can vary according to the form of therapy and treatment plan, some people are not very comfortable with face-to-face sessions or in-person therapy. Live sessions in a therapist's office may also not be accessible to those who have limited availability due to personal circumstances. Virtual therapy, or online therapy, can help meet preferences for a private space to discuss specific issues with text messages or other forms of online sessions and systems for support with a professional available alongside a person's convenience. Other benefits include therapy services such as 7 Cups offering support in the United States and worldwide, allowing individuals to access mental health support regardless of their location.

Featured Contributors

Emily Jacobs

Emily Jacobs is a freelance healthcare writer based in Toledo, Ohio.

Rory Boutilier, RPC

Rory is a Registered Professional Counsellor and registered with the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association.

Allison Moore

Allison is a university student passionate about mental health awareness and equality, currently studying in Bali, Indonesia.