A teen who cuts, burns, or harms themselves is a frightening time for any parent or friend. Maybe you are a teen who has ended up on this page because you are going through something right now that makes it seem like self-harm is the only way to get through some intense emotions.
First of all, there are two types of self-harm that I see come through my practice: suicidal or non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). I treat suicidal self-harm as an emergency and will work quickly with you or your child to establish a treatment team and the appropriate level of treatment. NSSI is something that is completely different.
For most of my clients, NSSI is an experience of emotional relief through cutting with a knife, razor, or other sharp object. It is done to release intense feelings of anxiety, anger, or depression. Sometimes it is done to fit in with peers or has some sort of social component to fit in with a group at school. One of the first things that I do with clients who engage in NSSI is to determine the drive behind the behaviors, which then helps us to develop a plan of how to best move forward.
When I look at NSSI as a release of intense feelings, I see it as a underdeveloped ability and safety to express feelings. Sometimes this is able to be addressed through better family relational skills, and sometimes this is best addressed through EMDR. Either way, my goal is to help my clients experience a relief of feeling safe in having big feelings. By getting through the feelings that drive these behaviors, we are able to reduce and eliminate the need to do these behaviors.
The clients who cut for social reasons have different needs. For these clients, I work to help them achieve a new and different ways to find the social validation. Sometimes this is entirely peer-related and sometimes it involves working with the family.