Using CBT for Self-Harm Recovery

May 27, 2021 Kim Berkley

I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional; I cannot tell you how to use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for self-harm recovery. But I hope that, by sharing my own experience, I can help you decide whether it is an option you should investigate further for self-harm recovery.

What Is CBT for Self-Harm Recovery?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that has been used to treat a wide range of mental illnesses. It can be practiced in group therapy, one-on-one sessions, and sometimes, individually using a workbook or other self-help resources. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves using activities such as mood tracking, journaling, and exposure therapy to challenge cognitive distortions and replace unhealthy thought patterns with healthier, more positive ones.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used as a primary tool for self-harm recovery, or it may be one of multiple tools you turn to throughout the healing process. Because everyone's journey is unique, the specific ways in which CBT may fit into self-harm recovery will differ from person to person. In some cases, it may be very effective; other people may not find CBT helpful at all.

How I've Used CBT for Self-Harm Recovery

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, and pretty much always have been. Or maybe it's because intrusive thoughts and unhealthy thought patterns played such a central role in my own experience of self-injury. Whatever the case may be, I've found CBT for self-harm recovery to be incredibly helpful. It's not the only tool I use to stay healthy, but it's certainly one of the most important ones.

The main ways I've used CBT in my recovery process include:

  • Journaling exercises that helped me get better at noticing my thoughts and emotions without automatically judging myself for them or allowing them to completely consume me
  • Cognitive restructuring exercises that allowed me to identify unhealthy, unrealistic thoughts (such as "I'm not good enough" and "I deserve this") and challenge them with evidence to the contrary
  • Mood tracking exercises that allowed me to chart my progress over time—this helped me stay motivated over the long-term and helped me to see when I started to have more good days than bad ones

Initially, I learned about CBT with an online therapist, but most of my experience with it has been self-directed. I purchased a workbook written by a credible author with a background in psychotherapy, and worked through it slowly, doing no more than a few sections of each chapter per week. 

If you want to try CBT, I strongly recommend working with a therapist (at least at first). But if you do plan on trying it on your own as I did, keep in mind that it is not a "quick fix" that will make you better overnight. Take your time and work through the exercises at least as slowly as the book or resource you choose recommends—and feel free to slow down anytime you need.

The main thing is to be consistent. When I began working through my workbook, I made a point of blocking out "therapy time" on my calendar every Sunday morning. Even if I only worked through one small section, keeping up with it every week kept the things I learned top of mind and kept me motivated to continue learning. I didn't stop until I had worked through the entire book, which took me about a year.

Keep in mind, too, that practice doesn't end when therapy does. Think of it this way: once you learned how to walk, you didn't stop walking. You kept using what you learned long after you needed to consciously practice it. Therapy works the same way. Once you learn how to do it, it'll get easier and easier to use it again in the future, whenever you need to.

What is your experience with CBT in self-harm recovery? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2021, May 27). Using CBT for Self-Harm Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 from

Author: Kim Berkley

Find Kim on Instagram, Facebook and her blog.

August, 17 2021 at 5:26 pm

Hi Kim, I was wondering what kind of workbooks would you recommend to work through self harm?
I'm not able to see a therapist online or in person and I would love to try to start doing my own form of self help. :)

August, 25 2021 at 4:58 pm

Hi CC,
Thank you for your comment! I completely understand; it's not always feasible to see a therapist right away, although if and when you do have the opportunity, I do still strongly recommend it. :) But it's wonderful that you want to take that step, and I'm glad you're reaching out for some support as you do. The workbook I've personally found the most helpful so far is 'Mind Over Mood, Second Edition: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think.' While it's not specifically tailored to self-harm, it does cover anxiety, depression, and suicidal thinking, all of which can contribute to (and be exacerbated by) self-injury. It's kind of a goofy title, I know, but it's well-written and pretty easy to follow, and you can skip around depending on your needs. (So for example, you might read all the chapters on depression first, if depression seems like it might be your biggest challenge at the moment.)
HealthyPlace also has a handy list of self-harm related books you may want to check out as well:
I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions or requests. Wishing you all the best with your recovery.

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