Self Harm

Self-Harm Counseling & Therapy

What Is Self-Harm, Self-Mutilation, Or Self-Injury?

Self-harm and cutting are often misunderstood as attention-seeking behavior. However, most often these are symptoms of deep emotional pain or anger.  Individuals who self-harm – typically teens and young adults – tend to feel disconnected from the world around them.

The physical pain caused by self-injury allows the individual to temporarily escape feelings of loneliness and pain that may be more difficult to deal with, or perhaps actually feel something when they are otherwise numb.

Forms of self-injury include cutting, burning, hitting, intentionally picking at wounds to keep them from healing, and even reckless driving or binge drinking. Some warning signs that a friend or loved one may be harming themselves include

  • Unexplained or suspicious scars
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, wounds
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
  • Statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness

Although there are infinite ways to self-harm, 10 of the most common include:

  • Cutting yourself with razor blades, knives, or sharp objects
  • Punching objects until your knuckles bleed
  • Punching or hitting yourself
  • Banging your head against a wall
  • Biting, burning, pinching, scraping, or scratching yourself
  • Perforating, or puncturing, your skin with pointed objects
  • Irritating wounds to prevent them from healing
  • Carving words or symbols into your flesh with knives, scissors, glass, etc.
  • Pulling out your hair with the intent to self-injure (Note: most forms of hair-pulling are considered obsessive-compulsive in nature rather than self-injurious)
  • Swallowing objects or substances with the intent to make yourself sick

If you have the urge to self-harm, you are no doubt familiar with the shame and guilt that follows, along with the eventual return of the emotional pain you were seeking to escape.  If you are the parent of a child who self-injures, then you are probably filled with confusion, fear and worry about why your child would want to self-harm. Parenting an adolescent is tough enough without the added stress and worry of self-harming behaviors.

Our counselors work with cutters and other self-harmers to create a plan for reducing self-injurious behaviors while developing healthier coping skills. Through our creative solutions – including expressive arts, sand tray therapy, and yoga therapy, individual therapy and family therapy – we’ll also help you process the emotional issues underlying the self-harming behavior.

Why Do People Engage in Self-Harm?

Self-mutilating and attention-seeking behaviors are often confounded as being identical; but for many individuals who self-injure, the activity is conducted with the utmost secrecy, concealing wounds from family and friends and reporting shame when confronted about the condition. More commonly, individuals who self-harm report doing so in an effort to:

  • Relieve oppressive, unremitting anxiety, stress, or depression
  • Induce pain (an extreme sensation) as an alternative to chronic numbness—or the absence of feeling
  • Force internal scars to appear externally, where their visibility evokes comfort
  • Exert autonomy (or self-control) over a chaotic situation, deriving security from pain that is self-created instead of other-created
  • Punish yourself for capitulating to your emotions (for example: for expressing anger to a romantic partner) or for falling short of perfection
  • Achieve endorphin-release or euphoria (also known as the cutter’s high)
  • Vent impulsive anger
  • Cope with trauma; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; interpersonal difficulties (e.g. bullying, breakups); or a mental health concern (substance abuse, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc.)

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Self-Harm?

The physical indicators for self-harm are similar to the warning signs for physical abuse; just as the psychological symptoms are analogous to the indicators for depression and impulsivity—with a few notable distinctions. Symptoms of self-harm may include:

  • Evidence of bruises, cuts, scratches, broken bones, burns, scrapes, bite marks, bald spots, or non-healing wounds
  • An over-abundance or unusual patterning of scars (e.g. scars that form distinctive shapes or that align in parallel lines)
  • Wearing weather-inappropriate or context-inappropriate clothing to conceal wounds (e.g. bulky sweaters and gloves in the summertime; wearing a hat to class—despite dress code regulations—to conceal self-inflicted hair loss)
  • Hoarding self-harming implements of choice (razor blades, broken glass, miniature scissors) for easy access
  • Developing rituals for self-harm (arranging tools for self-mutilation in a particular manner prior to use; only harming oneself in the bathroom where cleanup is quick and easy, etc.)
  • Social withdrawal (to facilitate hiding scars or time spent engaging in self-harm)
  • Claiming to be accident-prone, or asserting flimsy excuses for injuries
  • Co-occurring Depression/Anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, numbness, impulsive behavior, substance abuse, emotional & personality instability, more+

How Can Counseling & Therapy For Self-Harm Improve My Condition?

Although most self-injurious behavior is non-suicidal in nature, risks associated with self-harm include infection, accidental death, or worsening suicidality. However, several therapeutic interventions have proven effective for managing and reducing self-harm. Your therapist may recommend:


  • Traditional Talk Therapy, to uncover the roots of your self-harming behavior; to equip you with the tools you need to effectively cope with emotional pain or detachment; and to address co-morbid conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and more+ that may occur in conjunction with your condition
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which respectfully challenges the reasons why you self-injure (e.g. you may burn yourself to exert control over an out-of-control situation… when doing so actually makes your life more chaotic) & assists you in adapting your behavior (e.g. by identifying more constructive ways in which you can seize control of your situation without relying on burning to self-soothe)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which utilizes the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy but delves deeper into emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships; this form of counseling is particularly useful for individuals with borderline personality disorder
  • Family Therapy, to assist family members in best supporting an individual who engages in self-harm, and to address family dynamics that may exacerbate an individual’s condition
  • Group Therapy, to connect you with other individuals in various states of healing from self-harm to form a vaster support network to supplement your recovery
  • Alternative Therapies, including mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapeutic yoga, and equine therapy to expose you to innovative methods for self-relaxation that can help curb your impulses to self-injure
  • Inpatient/Residential Care, as needed, your therapist may refer you to a higher level of care, where you can receive around-the-clock assistance as you work to eliminate self-harming urges

If you feel this sounds familiar and you are ready to talk to someone, contact NewPath to set up an appointment today. If you are unsure if your behavior constitutes self-harm, give us a call and we can set you up with a counselor to discuss your specific behaviors.  Help is a phone call away!
(409) 200-2220

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