Self harm patients are individuals who hurt themselves without the intent of committing suicide. Typical displays of self-harming behavior include cutting, burning, or picking at one’s skin compulsively. Self harm is most common in adolescent girls, but adolescent males as well as adults can also struggle with it. Actions like cutting and burning oneself are maladaptive coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional pain and distress, or with the lasting effects of past traumatic experiences. When treating an individual who is actively self-harming, therapists have found Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to be an effective treatment. Here are a few ways this therapy helps.
One aspect of DBT is to learn how to build and maintain healthy personal relationships, with friends, family, romantic partners, etc. One of the benefits of learning how to form stronger personal relationships is that it helps build self-esteem. Higher self-esteem, in turn, diminishes the desired or perceived need to engage in negative self-harming behaviors.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but individuals with a history of self harm don’t always know how to cope with stressful situations well. DBT helps patients identify their emotions and emotional triggers, and then teaches them healthy coping methods to deal with stress, and to develop a stronger distress tolerance. Stress is a common preceding factor that drives self harm, so learning how to manage it is key to recovery.
It can be hard for anyone to look at the big picture. Self harm patients often don’t realize how their actions impact those around them. DBT helps patients expand their worldview. This way, they can see and understand how their behavior impacts their friends, family, and the rest of society. The added perspective provided in certain DBT skill-sets helps self-harming individuals weigh their actions more rationally than they did prior to working on themselves.
A lack of self-respect and self-worth is a common theme in self harm patients. DBT teaches a number of skills that helps patients realize and maintain self-respect. They learn to be fair to themselves, stick to their values, and to be truthful. As a result, a greater understanding of intrinsic self-worth makes unhealthy behaviors like self harm more difficult to engage in.
Finally, it is important to know that self harming behaviors can be a symptom of a larger mental health condition. For instance, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or a personality disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling with self harm, you can contact our office to arrange for a psychiatric evaluation and clinical recommendation of treatment.
Since 2003, the Delray Center for Healing has provided exceptional psychiatric and therapeutic care for mental health, eating, and substance use disorders. To learn more about our philosophy and treatment approach, download our free e-book, “Psychiatry Redefined,” written by our founder and medical director, Raul J. Rodriguez, MD.