Self-harm in children and young people
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Sue Brown (Registered MBACP)
7th April, 20140 Comments
There is no doubt at all that self-harm is a huge issue that is affecting more and more young people. At the same time, unhelpful attitudes and fear-based responses make the situation worse for those who deal with their problems through self-harm.
Many children and young people who self-harm are told that they must be "attention-seeking". If there is someone else in their school who has been known to self-harm, then it must be "copy-cat" behaviour. Even if these two points are true, they alone should give rise to some concern. Why does someone feel so in need of attention that they would physically damage themselves for it? What does it say about someone's sense of self-worth and self-image if they need to copy potentially dangerous behaviour in order to feel better about themselves?
Then there are the fear-based responses. These can include rushing someone off to the GP or finding a bucketful of alternative responses to stop the worrying behaviour. Such responses usually come from people who are desperate to find a "cure" - anything to stop their child or pupil from hurting themselves.
Of course, there are times when snapping an elastic band on a wrist can be what someone needs to stop self-harming, but responses such as finding alternative coping strategies tend to deal with the symptoms rather than the cause.
Very few children and young people wake up one morning and decide to self-harm. It usually starts after a long period of suffering from some sort of emotional distress. They can't just "snap out of it" so they look to ways to make their emotional pain better - and self-harm is one of those ways.
Although many wouldn't like to believe it, self harm does make the emotional pain a little easier to bear - at least initially. Self-harm releases chemicals in the brain that bring about momentary relief. The same chemicals can also have an addictive quality - another reason why self-harm can be so difficult to stop.
So rather than deal with the symptoms of the problem, people are better off looking at the causes. Counselling can help get to the root of the issues. When the roots of the problems have been addressed, some of the coping strategies can start to be used and indeed they can work.
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