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Psychological and Medical Treatment of Self-Injury

There is no magic pill for stopping self-injury, self-harm. Therapeutic approaches help self-injurers learn new coping mechanisms to deal with feelings instead of self-injury.

Self-harm is almost always a symptom of another underlying problem. While the problem can be addressed directly through behavioral and stress-management techniques, it may also be necessary to look at and treat other problems. This could involve anything from medication to psychodynamic therapy.

Current methods of treatment involve using medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety drugs to alleviate the underlying symptoms that patients are attempting to cope with via self-injury. Once the patient becomes stabilized on a medication, deeper therapeutic work must be done to deal with any underlying problems that are contributing to these symptoms. Long-term recovery from self-injury involves learning new techniques for coping with turbulent emotions. Perhaps most importantly, patients need to be treated with compassion rather than force.

Hospitalization and taking away implements used for self-injury may make friends and family feel more secure, but the patient is left feeling fearful and completely defenseless. Long-term healing involves helping the patient to control symptoms in a more positive way, such as journaling and anger management skills. If a negative coping skill is removed, it is crucial to replace it with a more positive one. The patient's desire to cooperate and get well is a major factor in recovery.

Finding a Specialist to Treat Self-Injury

Of all disturbing patient behaviors, self-mutilation is often described as the most difficult for clinicians to understand and treat. Typically, these therapists and mental health practitioners are left feeling a combination of helplessness, horror, guilt, fury and sadness.

Most local mental health teams are prepared to see and assess people who self-harm but, where the underlying problems are too complex, may decide to refer the patient to more specialized services.

There are very few self-injury treatment centers / programs in the U.S. where staff members have the necessary training and experience to allow them to confront and manage such seemingly bizarre behavior. One is the S.A.F.E. Alternatives program, a specialist treatment center for those who suffer from self-injury.

If you are searching for professional help, ask your doctor for a referral, call your county medical society and county psychological association along with area psychiatric hospitals.



next: Self-Help For Self-Injury

Last Updated: 01 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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