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Skipper L Harvey, PsyD
December 9, 2013

What is Self-Injury?

One of the most frightening moments in a parent’s life is when they discover that their child has been intentionally engaging in acts of self-harm. This can cause a parent to be instantly overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, fear, and guilt. In addition, many parents are suddenly at a loss in regard to the cause of their child’s behavior and how to help. Self-injurious behaviors are typically an individual’s way of expressing and coping with problems that are causing significant suffering and emotional pain. As strange as it may sound, hurting oneself actually makes one feel better. Many tweens and teens that self-injure hide their behavior from others, including parents, because they feel ashamed or believe that no one will understand the reason for their actions. This in turn makes them feel even lonelier, worthless, and trapped which creates a complicated cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms and stressors that is likely to continue without professional help.

Common Ways Tweens and Teens Self-Injure

By making small, linear cuts on the forearm, upper arm, legs, or stomach. An individual may also choose to carve a derogatory word onto their body such as fat, stupid, loser, etc. Common objects used to cut include a staple, paperclip, knife, or razor blade.

By banging or punching objects to the point that there is bruising or bleeding. An individual may also bang or punch their own body to the point of self-harm.

By intentionally burning a part of their body or rubbing something on the skin, like an eraser, to the point that the skin is rubbed off. 

One thing to note is that while self-injurious behaviors can be very frightening to parents and loved ones, they are typically not a suicide attempt. One significant difference between self-harm behaviors and suicide is intent. Those who are suicidal are looking to end their own life, while those who self-harm are most often engaging in the behavior to cope with life stressors. In either situation, treatment with a professional should be sought out immediately.

What Are the Signs of Self-Injury?

- Unexplained recurrent injury such as cuts or burns
- Scars that cannot be explained
- Wearing long sleeved shirts and pants every day, even in warm weather
- Depressed mood, tearfulness, lack of motivation or interest in anything
- Blaming oneself for problems or constantly thinking one is not good enough
- Sudden mood changes or out-of-control behavior
- Unexplained decline in academic functioning

What Are the Treatment Options for Self-Injurers?

Psychotherapy is the primary treatment to help an individual stop engaging in self-harm behavior. It is important for new coping skills to be learned to eliminate unhealthy ways of dealing with stressors. Also, identification of the factors leading to the self-harm behavior is crucial so work can be done to reduce or eliminate those factors. Family participation is a necessary part of treatment to provide support and address family dynamics that may be related to the behavior. The prognosis for an individual that self-injures varies based on their emotional state, psychological state, and home environment.

Websites for Additional Information


About Dr. Skipper
Dr. Skipper is a Florida Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works extensively with children, adolescents, and families to provide therapy and psychoeducational assessment services.

She received her doctorate degree from the Florida School of Professional Psychology.  Dr. Skipper has worked with children, adolescents, and families in a variety of settings which include mental health clinics, residential settings, drug treatment facilities, and schools.

Through the integration of a variety of empirically-based treatment approaches, Dr. Skipper assists her clients by providing new skills and empowering strategies to build distress tolerance, enhance awareness and communication, facilitate insight, and challenge maladaptive relationship and thinking patterns. She employs an active therapeutic stance to facilitate long-lasting, positive change. 

Dr. Skipper’s background also includes a B.A. in Elementary Education with 11 years of experience in primary education. 

Disclaimer: The above information is not intended to provide professional advice or diagnostic service. If you have any concerns about Self-Injury or other health issues, please consult a qualified health care professional in your community.