If you have recently discovered your teenager is self-harming you may not know what to do next. This is not an easy subject for anyone to talk about.
The first thing to say is that although self-harm is a sign that someone is deeply distressed it does not mean that they are close to taking their own life. They are at higher risk but self-harm is not a clear sign that suicide is on their mind.
There are a number of reasons why teenagers self-harm. Here are the most common:
Gaining control: there are only a few things that some teenagers can control in their lives but their bodies are one of them.
Release: self-harm lets out the pain or at least it numbs it.
Escape: self-harm maybe a way of escaping the distress teenagers find themselves in.
Punishment: teenagers use self-harm to punish themselves either for wrongs they have committed or because they are failing to live up to their expectations or those of others.
To feel cared for: to hurt themselves is a way of some young people accessing the care and kindness they crave.
How counselling can help?
My counselling approach varies for each individual but I aim to fully understand why self-harm helps their distress, what the triggers are, how they might distract themselves in other ways and to build their self-esteem and belief that they do not deserve to be punished. I also explore how they might get access the emotional support they crave without harming themselves. Mindfulness may help in distancing young people from their negative thought patterns.
Some people may be responsive to getting the same feeling without hurting themselves in the same way, for example clenching ice cubes.