Therapy for Teenagers Who Self-Harm

At Avery’s House, we treat adolescents, ages 11-18, for various mental health conditions. We offer therapy for self-harm as well as any mental health condition that may be a contributing factor to these behaviors.

It can be difficult for young people to express themselves healthily in today’s society. Too often, teens will turn to hurt themselves or self-harm when experiencing difficult feelings or events.

Thankfully, teen therapy for self-harm is available. This condition can and should be treated before it becomes something worse.

At Avery’s House, we treat adolescents, ages 11-18, for various mental health conditions. We offer therapy for self-harm as well as any mental health condition that may be a contributing factor to these behaviors.

What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm, also called self-injury, is when someone hurts themselves on purpose. This is done to change the way a person feels. Even though it is often kept a secret, it is a common practice, especially among young people.

There are many ways and many reasons for this. Whatever the method and reason, self-harm can be dangerous. Many times, teens use self-harm as a coping mechanism for emotional or mental distress. It is not usually meant as a suicide attempt. However, if not dealt with sensitively and promptly, self-harm can eventually lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Methods of Self-Harm

Self-harm can come in many different forms. It can be in varying degrees of pain. Teens can find ways to hurt themselves that can be easily hidden or noticed.

Some forms of self-harm are:

  • Scratching
  • Marking
  • Carving
  • Branding
  • Picking or pulling of hair or skin
  • Cutting
  • Head banging
  • Hitting
  • Abrasions
  • Burning
  • Biting
  • Bruising
  • Poisoning
  • Eating disorders – Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. These are linked to fears, anxieties, and pressures that lead to self-harm. Those with eating disorders hide their behavior.
  • Substance use disorders
  • Excessive exercise
  • Fighting with others
  • Reckless behavior such as driving or unsafe sex
  • Tattooing
  • Body piercing
  • Digital self-harm – This is a fairly new form of self-harm. Teens will go on social media anonymously and post, send, or share content about themself that is harmful. This behavior may be linked to physical self-harm and/or suicidal ideation.

Signs and Symptoms of Self-Harm

It can be hard to notice the signs of self-harm. Young people often feel shame and do everything they can to cover it up. They usually follow a pattern of harm to feel momentarily calm and free from painful feelings followed by guilt. The self-harm can get progressively worse even if this is not the intention. This pattern is similar to that of an addict.

Some symptoms of self-harm are:

  • Scarring – this is often found in patterns.
  • Fresh marks – cuts, scratches, bite marks, bruises, or other injuries.
  • Excessive rubbing is done to one skin area to cause a burn.
  • Keeping sharp objects with them.
  • Always wear long sleeves and long pants. They do this even when the weather is hot.
  • Frequent accidental injury reports.
  • Difficulties in relationships.
  • Unstable, unpredictable, and impulsive behaviors and emotions.
  • Making statements that they feel helpless, hopeless, or worthless.
  • Blood stains on clothing, bedding, or other places that are unusual.
  • Spending long periods alone is beyond the norm.
  • An increase in social isolation and withdrawal.
  • Avoiding activities that reveal their skin, such as swimming or using a locker room to change.

Why Do Teens Self-Harm?

Being a teen is hard. It seems like young people have a lot to deal with these days. There can be many causes for a teen to start to injure themself.

Like drugs, alcohol, food, or sex, self-harm can be used as an escape. They want to escape negative or bothersome feelings, emotions, or situations. For a short time, self-harm makes them feel better. This is not to be confused with a suicide attempt. Most of the time, those who deliberately self-harm do not intend to commit suicide. However, research shows that they are at a higher risk of suicide.

Some reasons for self-harm could be:

  • To numb the pain – They want to stop feeling pain from some overwhelming emotions. This could be loneliness, sadness, hurt, anger, etc. The physical pain distracts their brain from the emotional pain.
  • To feel something – Sometimes, teens deal with mental health issues that cause them to already feel numb. The pain from self-harm gives them something to feel.
  • To feel in control – Self-harm is a way for a teen to have control when they feel like their life is out of control.
  • To punish – This happens when a young person experiences overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame. If they do not have a healthy way to express and deal with these feelings, they may feel like they need to punish themselves through self-injurious behavior.
  • To express themselves – Oftentimes, teens will have complicated feelings or emotions. They may not understand these and may not know how to communicate them effectively. Self-harm could be their way of communicating their internal struggle.

Who is at Risk of Self-Harm?

Self-harm cannot always be predicted. However, some risk factors contribute to a teenager’s likelihood of engaging in self-injurious behavior.

Some risk factors could be:

  • Generally, females are more likely than males to participate in self-harm. This could be for several reasons:
    • Mental and emotional pressure to improve, do better and look better.
    • Peer pressure to live up to a certain standard.
    • General societal standards are placed on girls that are not placed on boys.
  • Those with other mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, especially if untreated.
  • Those who have low self-esteem.
  • Past and/or present abuse or neglect.
  • Those who have been or are being bullied.
  • Those who have suffered significant loss or death.
  • Those who have difficulties coping with negative feelings positively.
  • Those who do not have a positive adult role model or do not have a healthy relationship with an adult.
  • Those who have friends or family who also self-harm.
  • Those who experience substance use disorder, either their own or a loved one’s.
  • Untreated mental health conditions in a loved one.

How Does Self-Harm Affect Teens?

There can be a variety of effects that a teen can experience when they self-harm.

  • Physical effects:
    • Permanent disfigurement
    • Broken bones
    • Scarring
    • Infection including sepsis
    • Suicidal behaviors
    • Fatal behaviors
    • Accidental death
    • Suicide
  • Psychological effects:
    • Worsening self-image
    • Worsening self-esteem
    • Social isolation
    • Phobias
    • Feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust
    • Suicidal thoughts
  • Consequences of risky behaviors could include legal consequences
  • Loss of vital relationships
  • Effects of eating disorders:
    • Heart failure
    • Seizures
    • Pancreatitis
    • Hypothermia
    • Neuron damage
    • Increased risk of bone fractures and breakage
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Kidney failure
    • Low white blood cell count

What Can Parents Do To Help?

Parents who discover their child’s self-harming behaviors can often be lost, not knowing what to do. They may have a range of emotions from anger to sadness to fear.

Regardless of the initial reaction, it is important to remember that your child is crying out for help. Getting help sooner than later is the best course of action.

Here are some tips for parents of a self-harming teen:

Do:

  • Take your child seriously. This is likely not attention-seeking behavior.
  • Learn about self-harm.
  • Address the problem as soon as you can.
  • Validate your teen’s feelings. This is NOT validating their behavior.
  • Be patient – with your teen, yourself, and the rest of your family.
  • When speaking to your child, use a calm tone. Be reassuring and respectful.
  • Ask your child open-ended questions. This will help build healthy communication.
  • Listen to your child.
  • Ask them how you can support them and what they need.
  • Regularly check in with them. Ask how they are doing.
  • Praise positive changes.
  • Focus on your child.
  • Take care of yourself. Be an example of good self-care.
  • Hold on to hope. Recovery is hard, tiring, and takes time. Don’t give up.
  • Find support for yourself.

Do Not:

  • See continuing self-harm as a failure. When a relapse happens, your child is not failing at recovery. Keep encouraging them and praising positive changes.
  • Respond in a hurtful way. This will add stress to everyone and create a barrier to recovery.
  • Fight for power or control. You do not have the power to control anyone else’s behavior. Demanding something of your child is counterproductive.
  • Rationalize the behavior. This is not just a phase that your teen will grow out of. This is a serious behavior that needs immediate attention.
  • Minimize the seriousness. Because your child is doing this to relieve stress or negative emotions, minimizing it could minimize what they are feeling.
  • Isolate your child. They need as much support as possible. They have to stay connected to friends and family.
  • Focus on self-harm. The real problem is the cause of self-harm, not the behavior itself.

How Can a Teen Who Self-Harms Be Treated?

There is not a “one size fits all” treatment for self-harm. The treatment will be determined by the needs of the person hurting themself. The first step is to find a qualified mental health professional. This person will not only help with self-harm but also with any other mental health problems. These are called co-occurring disorders. They may have been present before self-harm began or could have started after.

There are some treatment options mental professionals might use to help.

Psychotherapy

  • Talk Therapy – Also known as counseling. This can help the teen:
    • Identify any underlying problems that could be a trigger for self-injurious behavior and manage those problems.
    • Learn skills to manage stress.
    • Develop skills that can help improve relationships and social interactions.
    • Learn to manage emotions.
    • Develop healthy problem-solving skills.
    • Learn ways to boost self-image.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Can help identify the beliefs that are negative and unhealthy. They will learn healthy, adaptive behaviors to replace them with.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – A form of CBT. This teaches how to tolerate distress, how to manage emotions and how to improve relationships.
  • Mindfulness-based therapies are aimed at helping a teen live in the present. They can help them receive their thoughts and actions from others in a way that helps reduce anxiety and depression. They generally help improve overall well-being.
  • Play therapy is a way for young people to express emotions or problems without talking. Playtime is a chance for a trained therapist to observe a young person’s behavior. This can help them understand what the child is going through. It is also a way to teach them ways to cope and how to redirect bad behaviors. Play therapy would be age-appropriate and look different for everyone.
  • Group therapy is a good way for young people to share their experiences with peers. They can know they are not alone in their struggles and encourage someone else.
  • Family therapy – In this therapy, the whole family benefits. It gives the self-harming teen a chance to speak freely about their situation and helps the family understand what the teen is going through.

Medications

There are no medications that are given to treat self-harm behaviors. However, if a teen who self-harms also has another mental, physical, or emotional disorder, a doctor may give medicine to treat that condition. This could, in turn, help treat the self-harm by treating the possible trigger.

Hospitalization

For those who repeatedly or severely injure themselves, psychiatric hospitalization may be necessary. This is a short-term stay in a safe environment with intensive treatment. Mental health day treatment programs could also be an option for less severe cases. These are known as Intensive Outpatient Programs or IOPs.

Self-Care

One of the most important aspects of treatment is self-care. When a teen is in treatment for self-harm (or any mental health condition), the following tips should be remembered:

  • Always stick to the treatment plan.
  • Look for and be aware of the situations that trigger self-harming tendencies. Make plans and goals for dealing with those situations.
  • Make sure the teen is caring for themself mentally, physically, and emotionally. Treatment can be very tiring. Make sure they get plenty of sleep and have good nutrition habits.
  • Seek medical attention if needed.

Teen Therapy for Self-Harm is Available

If you have a teen who hurts themself, know this for sure: you are not alone. This is an all too common occurrence. But, our young people are crying out. And we have to know how to help them.

At Avery’s House, we can help. Call us today to talk to someone about your self-harming teen.

We Accept Most Insurance Plans

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Phone (855) 506-1906

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