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What is Self-Harm and why do People do it?

Self-harm, also referred to as self-injury, is when a person purposely harms themselves or causes themselves physical pain, in order to get respite for difficult feelings or emotions. Recent studies into self-harm in the UK have found a 68% rise in reported cases, particularly among young girls – with 20% of 14-year-old girls claiming to have self-harmed at some point.

Many of us have a vice or something to take the edge off, whether it be having a few drinks after work in the evening, smoking cigarettes between stressful meetings or stopping by the bakery for something sugary and filled with cream. All of these behaviours are “harmful” to our health, but provide a release from our stresses – and for those who self-harm, it is simply a coping mechanism for bigger problems and overwhelming emotions.

What Is Self-Harm?

Self-harm refers to any action which involves hurting yourself in order to feel better about your emotions, feelings or stresses. Many people associate self-harm with cutting – however there are a number of different (and sometimes subtler) ways that people may harm themselves:

  • Hitting your head or banging your head against objects
  • Punching yourself
  • Throwing yourself at walls or hard objects or furniture
  • Throwing yourself down stairs
  • Scratching of the skin
  • Pulling out hair
  • Picking at wounds to prevent them from healing
  • Burning or scalding yourself
  • Mixing or overdosing on medicine, chemicals or recreational drugs
  • Sticking hard objects into the skin

Why do People do it?

Whilst there is no blanket reason for why people self-harm, most people harm themselves in order to cope with or escape much more difficult feelings or emotions. When life becomes too distressing or our feelings become too overwhelming or difficult to manage, some people feel that there is no other escape other than to distract themselves with another form of pain.

Self-harm is often linked to suicide however not everyone who self-harms has thoughts of suicide – for some it is a way to control an aspect of their lives when everything else is spiralling out of control, for others a form of punishment for their feelings or behaviours or a way to communicate unbearable stress and for others it’s a way to make themselves feel alive after a period of feeling numb inside.

What Type of Therapies could Help?

Everyone’s experience with self-harm is completely different and therefore the type of therapies that can help will also differ from person to person. There are four main types of therapy that could help you with self-harming;

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most popular forms of therapy for both therapists and patients. It is a form of talking based therapy that focuses on changing the patterns between what happens around us and how we react, it is a usually a short-term treatment that focuses on a particular problem or issue.

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioural therapy is the most effective type of therapy for those who are struggling with self-harm. It is a form of talking therapy that has evolved from CBT to help people experience their emotions on a more intense level. DBT aims to help people to live in the present moment, cope with stress and regulate emotions, and improve relationships with those around them.

Schema therapy

Those of us who have tried many different types of therapy – particularly talking therapies such as CBT and DBT – and found they didn’t help, may find much more success with schema therapy. Developed in an attempt to help those who had not seen results with more popular forms of therapy, schema focuses on changing the negative patterns or beliefs that people have lived with over an extended period of time by replacing them with healthier alternatives.

Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)

CAT explores the reasons behind why you might feel or react a certain way to an event or emotion by understanding the origins of your distress. Many of us have deeply rooted ways to cope, manage or deal with our emotions, feelings and problems – often stemming from how we dealt with significant events in earlier life – by understanding the reason why we react in certain ways can help to change how we react in future situations.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and you find yourself self-harming – or even wanting to – a therapist could be a great way to find a different method to cope with your issues. There are a number of different types of therapy that can assist with self-harm including; cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, schema therapy and cognitive analytical therapy – all of which are available online on our online therapy app. Online therapy is a great way to tie sessions into your already busy schedules, without disrupting your day to day life – and from the comfort of where works for you, whether it be on your sofa with a cup of tea or in your car in your favourite beauty spot. Visit our site to learn more about how we can help with self-harm, as well as a range of other mental health issues, and to sign up to our online therapy app.