Self-harm is defined as a self-inflicted physical injury that damages body tissue, in an attempt to alter mood or physiological state. Damage to body tissue is regarded as tears, bruises or burns to the skin.
Self-harm is also known as self-injury’, ‘self-mutilation’ and ‘deliberate self-harm’. The most common form of self-harm is cutting or scratching the skin with a sharp object, but it can take a variety of different forms, from burning, hair pulling, overdosing or ingesting poisonous or toxic substances.
There are numerous reasons for self-harm, but it is ultimately a coping mechanism and provides a temporary release or relief for whatever emotional or psychological problem the person may be experiencing.
It is seen as a coping mechanism to deal with other problems, offering distraction, a chance to exert control over the body, and a way of releasing and expressing emotions.
Some feel self-harm is calming when they feel overwhelmed, helping them to focus, slow their emotions down and regain control of a situation. For others it is part of a ritual that helps them feel safe.
Many use it to help bury thoughts or feelings, flashbacks or nightmares, numbing the emotions. Others see it as a form of punishment to deal with feelings of shame and guilt.
There are many methods that can be used to help and break the behavioural pattern of self-harming. These vary from distraction, channelling the emotions into another activity, identifying the triggers, joining self-help groups, and seeking professional help.
Seeking professional help means that a qualified professional may be able to suggest methods of preventing or dealing with self-harm that is most suited to the individual, and help them implement them.
The most common treatment for self-harm is counselling, where the individual can talk through their problems, and establish what is at the heart of their need to self-harm. It gives a non-judgemental, completely confidential atmosphere.
Counselling involves talking with someone who is trained to listen with empathy and acceptance. They do not aim to give advice, but offer you the chance to explore your feelings and find your own solutions to any difficulties you are having. Talking things through with another person can help you understand your feelings and behaviour, and start to make positive changes. It can also help you feel supported to have someone else accept and understand your experiences.
Prescribed medication, such as anti-depressants, may also be given by a GP to help regulate the emotions that cause the self-harm, particularly if it is linked to a wider state of depression.
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