Our counsellors at Curio Counselling work in a variety of different therapeutic modalities (like somatic therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, etc.) that can be adapted to best suit your needs and work through self-harm.
What is Self-Harm?
Self-harm refers to certain behaviours that intentionally cause harm to oneself.
This can include self-injury (like cutting, pulling out hair, burning), but can also include other types of harm like consuming alcohol or drugs in toxic amounts, or engaging in high risk behaviours (like unsafe sex).
Self-harm often occurs when people are trying to cope with emotional distress.
It may be initiated when people have a lack of affect (feeling numb) and just want to feel something, to stop a flashback, to release/express/avoid challenging emotions, or as a form of self-punishment.
Self-harming behaviours may also be comorbid with other mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders, among others.
What are the Effects of Self-Harm?
Self-harm can have significant effects on people’s overall wellbeing as well as their physical safety. Here are just some of the things people might experience as a result of self-harm:
- Emotional distress: People may be experiencing intense and distressing emotions including: anger, anxiety, grief, depression, loneliness, emptiness, or feeling disconnected. They may also be dealing with the effects of a traumatic experience.
- Emotional effects of self-harm: Sometimes, in addition to the distress people are going through, they may also feel guilt, shame, and embarrassment around their self-harming behaviour. This may cause them to hide their self-harm and its signs, or may make it difficult to reach out for support.
- Behavioural changes: When engaging in self-harm, people may have new or different behaviours. They may be dealing with impulse control challenges, avoid situations where their self-harm scars/wounds may be visible (like going swimming), or wear full coverage clothing even in hot weather to hide their scars/wounds. Some might engage in substance use or high risk behaviours.
- Risk of serious injury or infection: Depending on the type of self-harm that people are engaging in, wounds can develop infections if they are not treated properly, or other serious injuries/medical consequences may occur including nerve damage. People may also end up hurting themselves more severely than they intended to and may require medical attention.
- Scars: Certain types of self-harm may leave people with permanent scars that may be visible to others. This may lead to some things we have previously mentioned like emotions including shame/guilt/embarrassment, or behavioural changes to hide scarring.
- Self-worth and hopelessness: Some people who engage in self-harm may also be struggling with low self-worth, self-esteem, or feelings of hopelessness that may become a vicious cycle with their self-harm behaviours.
- Social effects: Struggling with mental health can have effects on our social world. People who engage in self-harm may notice effects in their relationships, and they may avoid social situations or isolate themselves.
If someone you know is engaging in self-harm, you may notice some behavioural, emotional, or physical signs of self-harm.
Try to respond with compassion and empathy, even if you might not understand why they are coping in this way.
Assist them in finding professional support by reaching out to community services, distress centres, or helping them to find a mental health professional (like a therapist, counsellor, or psychiatrist).
How Can Therapy Help with Self-Harm?
Therapy can help people engaging in self-harm through many different avenues. You can work with a therapist to learn a variety of coping mechanisms and strategies that may reduce the need to engage in self-harm. You can work on distress tolerance in therapy to practice experiencing discomfort and distressing emotions.
There are some types of therapy like cognitive-behavioural therapy that can specifically address negative thoughts/beliefs that may contribute to self-harm. Therapy can also be a place to address any other mental health challenges that may be connected to self-harm like depression, anxiety, or traumatic experiences.
Therapists can work with their clients on harm reduction, so that they are able to move through their lives causing themselves as little intentional harm as possible.
While self-harm is not necessarily suicidal behaviour, some people who self harm may also have thoughts about death or suicide.
People who engage in self-harming behaviour may be at an increased risk for suicidal ideation or behaviour. These kinds of thoughts are not uncommon, but should always be taken seriously.
Reach out to a mental health professional or helpline/distress line if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, or go to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1 if there is imminent risk to someone’s life.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the Distress Centre (Calgary) at 403-266-4357, or Talk Suicide Canada (Nation-wide) at 1-833-456-4566.
Our counsellors at Curio Counselling work in a variety of different therapeutic modalities (like somatic therapy, EMDR, cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, etc.) that can be adapted to best suit your needs and work through self-harm.
Book a free consultation today to get the support you deserve.
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References & Further Reading
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Self-harm.
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Self-harm. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/basics/self-harm
NHS Inform. (2023, May 3). Self-harm. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mental-health/self-harm
Cleveland Clinic. (2023, May 9). Self-harm (nonsuicidal self-injury disorder).
Schimelpfening, N. (2023, January 27). An overview of self-harm and cutting. Verywell Mind.