Self-harming behaviour is used by some teenagers to cope with emotional pain.
Self-harm is the term given when a teenager intentionally harms themselves; the most common method is cutting or burning the skin. Teenagers who self-harm often feel ashamed and keep it a secret; it occurs in both males and females.
Signs of Self-Harming Behaviour
Some signs to look for include:
- Changes in relationships (eg break-up, friendship difficulties, bullying);
- Withdrawal from people (at school, from friends or at home);
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities;
- Refusal to see a doctor;
- Changes in performance at school;
- Changes in their mood (eg anxiety, depression, aggression, becoming secretive);
- Cuts, scratches or burn marks on their skin (they may be scars when you notice them);
- Your teenager may have trouble explaining away how they got the injury;
- Wearing jumpers or pants when it is clearly too hot for them.
Why Does My Teenager Self-Harm?
There are several reasons why a teenager may turn to self-harm, for example:
- When everything in their life feels chaotic, self-harm is the one thing they feel they can control;
- To distract themselves from negative thoughts or feelings or memories;
- To make themselves feel something, as they often describe feeling numb;
- Because they feel as though they deserve to be punished;
- To hurt their parents;
- As a serious cry for help, when they feel they aren’t being heard or feel they can’t approach their parents for help.
What Can I Do As a Parent?
Therapy can help parents to:
- Understand what may be contributing to your teenager’s low mood and self-harm (eg bullying at school, relationship troubles, depression).
- Stay connected with your teen.
- Convey understanding and empathy towards your teen.
- Encourage physical activity and social interactions.
- Identify if additional help is required in the form of Psychiatric/Paediatric/Emergency Hospital assessment and treatment.
Psychological Treatment for Self-Harm
Individual therapy sessions for teenagers with self-harming issues will focus on areas such as:
- Understanding why they self-harm;
- Addressing any trauma that is associated with the self-harm;
- Learning to process the emotional pain in more helpful ways (such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy);
- Learning to deal with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, rather than using self-harm as a distraction tool;
- Emotional regulation skills;
- Building a positive self-image;
- Values and goal setting; and
- Rebuilding relationships through communication.
At some point during therapy it may be beneficial to have joint session/s with the teenager and their parent/s to facilitate communication and rebuild the relationship.
If you are concerned that your teenager is self-harming, please don’t hesitate to contact me to book an appointment.
Leia primarily works in clinical child and adolescent psychology although she can treat individuals and couples of all ages. She has training and experience in a variety of evidence based treatment approaches.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Leia Redman try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Shapiro, L. E. (2008). Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens who Cut & Self-Injure. Oakland: Instant Help Books.