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Investigating and Understanding Self- Harming Behaviors in Adolescents Michael Shufelt Moyer Ph.D, LPC.

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Presentation on theme: "Investigating and Understanding Self- Harming Behaviors in Adolescents Michael Shufelt Moyer Ph.D, LPC."— Presentation transcript:

1 Investigating and Understanding Self- Harming Behaviors in Adolescents Michael Shufelt Moyer Ph.D, LPC

2 Brief Overview of Self-Injury Major, Stereotypic, and Moderate/Superficial Episodic/compulsive Significant difference between Self-injury and Suicide. –Self-injury is the prevention of suicide –Usually done with controlled cuts –“is not a suicide attempt. It certainly is an expression of disappointment with life – but that’s very different from a suicide attempt” (Levenkron, 1998).

3 Who is Most At-Risk Generally begins between the ages of (although being seen in younger students) Most likely to be female Often continues into 20’s and 30’s or moves to other self-injurious behavior Middle to upper class socio-economic status Has been a victim of sexual or physical abuse The inability to cope with tension or stressors in a way manner Poor ability to regulate emotions Dysfunctional family unit or chaotic home life Participates in other self-injurious behavior such as eating disorders or alcohol or drug use Frequent peer conflicts Intimacy problems Having another self-mutilating family member

4 Why students self-injure Every student is different A way to distract Helps to clear the mind Cuts and scars are a way to express feelings when other ways don’t work (a means of communication) Injuries free oneself from negative feelings about self Injuries are a way to assert control Relieves emotional distress It is a way to maintain a sense of identity

5 Myths About Self-Injury Self-injury is a sign of madness. Students will eventually grow out of it. Self-harm is a manipulative/attention seeking act. It is a girls’ problem. The best way to deal with those who self-injure is to make them stop. Those who self-injure have been sexually abused. Self-injury is a failed suicide attempt.

6 Reasoning Behind the Research Why Self-injury? Conservative estimates say that about 2 million Americans self-injure. School Counselors are often times the first to encounter these behaviors and may be the first person a student turns to. Purpose of the Study. Those who self-injure are often misunderstood. As adults, we often speak for adolescents and try to figure out why and how they are acting without asking them.

7 Research Questions What is the experience that an adolescent has when performing self-injurious behaviors? What was going on in the student’s life that may have influenced him or her to cut for the first time? How did the student decide to hurt him/herself for the first time?

8 Methodology Data collection Student Questions 1.Tell me about the first time that you self-injured, “cut” yourself 2.What were some things that were going on in your life at that time? 3.How did you decide to self-injure “cut” yourself? 4.Please describe the experience of self-injury, and what it means to you. 5.Please describe a recent situation when you participated in self- injury and any thoughts or feelings that go along with the act. 6.Is there anything else you would like me know about self-injury? Counselor Questions 1.Please elaborate on your experience working with this population. 2.Tell me about what students have told you about self-injury. 3.Tell me about the feelings you see that accompany self-harming behaviors in students. 4.Can you describe any feelings that students have relayed to you on how they are affected by self-injury? 5.Describe what you have come to believe about this behavior and your opinions about what the behavior means to adolescents.

9 The Students / Counselors NameAgeGenderEthnicity Dakkota12FemaleWhite Stephanie15FemaleWhite Miranda15FemaleWhite Destro17MaleHispanic/White Ian15MaleHispanic Tigger18Female Hispanic Interview Case manager/ Counselor Years Experience Type of school GenderEthnicity 1Case manager 1High school FemaleHispanic 1Counselor2High school FemaleHispanic 2Case Manager 1High school FemaleWhite 2Case Manager 1High school FemaleHispanic 2Case Manager 2Middle school FemaleHispanic 3Counselor6Middle school FemaleWhite

10 Results The 1 st cut Feelings of guilt, shame and regret Not wanting to hurt others A tape recorder in the head A way to handle life situations and cope with emotions How they wish to be treated

11 The First Cut “A couple of my friends were doing it at school and they told me about it.” “At first, I really wasn’t going to” “I couldn’t imagine how people could inflict pain on themselves. And after I did it, instead of hurting, it actually felt, like better, instead of pain.”

12 Feelings of Guilt, Shame and Regret everybody wants me to not do it. “hurting other people. Making them feel bad. I don’t like doing that.” “I’ll see the scar and I’ll be like, ‘God, you know, why did I do that?’”

13 Not Wanting to Hurt Others “I still don’t want it (cutting) to hurt my dad, even though he really doesn’t talk to me anymore. But I don’t know I just don’t want it to like hurt him or anyone else.” “Just think of all the people you are hurting. You’re going to have to stop sooner or later.” “I don’t take my anger out on other people. Like some people fight to let out their anger. I don’t do that. I hurt myself.” “Instead of, you know, going up to someone else, I can, you know, just do it to myself instead of doing it to someone else.”

14 A tape Recorder in the head “I just get everything going through my head, and then just think about it and then I just cut myself.” “I usually think about all the problems and all the anger I have, and then that drives me to do it. I usually think about all the problems and all the anger I have.” “I mean, everything that’s going on, it goes over – It’s like, I guess, a tape recorder going over in my head, just over and over and over.” “if you want to do it good while you’re cutting yourself, you have to think about all the things that are driving you crazy at the time. The more you think about it, the less it hurts.”

15 A way to handle life situations and cope with emotions “It (cutting) was an easy way out. Some people, they just won’t listen to your problems.” “It just makes me feel better. I guess it’s my way out.” “clear my mind and get everything else out. It just like blocks the whole world so it’s just me.” “cleansing, just getting rid of it (the pain). Every feeling you feel is going into your cut. The pain you feel goes into that (cutting).” “gives me something else to think about.” “so much anger and stuff built up inside me that I would just – I would just do it (cut).”

16 How they wish to be treated “people call me freak and they, like, talk about me behind my back.” “It makes me mad when other people get mad about it.” “pretend like they don’t see it. It just bothers me when people like ignore it.” “Teachers, they don’t really say anything. They just stay out of it. It’s like they look at them (the cuts), they don’t bother asking.”

17 Counselors Response “parents are scared to death,” “had no idea that their child does this.” “staff members and teachers need to be more educated on how to handle a situation.” Teachers and administrators are not trained at all. It’s a total abomination. I have seen it handled so badly. I just think it’s absolutely horrendous how little the teachers and the principals, security officers, even the nurses

18 Implications for School Counselors Increased training and educational opportunities for parents, administrators, counselors, and students. Guidance Curriculum focused on healthy coping skill and building support networks starting at an early age. Individual counseling emphasizing basic counseling skills and simply listening Parent and faculty education that provides accurate information.

19 Provide accurate factual information to parents and families. Listen to concerns and worries. Advocate for your students with other faculty members. Find appropriate referral sources

20 Individual counseling emphasizing basic counseling skills and simply listening Informing students about Confidentiality and limits. Be aware of your own reactions and immediate responses Your first response is probably the most important one Treat the student and show that you care about them more than the behaviors. How to inform parents???

21 Helpful Responses Treat student as an individual and remember that this is an extremely private issue and one they are trusting you with. Some students may not believe they need help. Ultimatums do not work Provide a therapeutic environment in which the student feels comfortable talking about self-injury.

22 Activities and Resources Having a plan of action at your school Suggestions for alternate coping strategies The Safe Kit ury.htmlhttp://www.palace.net/~llama/psych/inj ury.html

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26 References Alderman, T. (1997). The scarred soul: Understanding and ending self-inflicted violence. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publishing Inc. Conners, R.E. (2000). Self-injury: Psychotherapy with people who engage in self-inflicted violence. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc. Conterio, K. & Lader, W. (1998). Bodily harm. New York: Hyperion Publishing. Favazza, A. R. (1996). Bodies under siege: Self-Mutilation and body modification in culture and psychiatry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. Froeschle, J. & Moyer, M. (2004). Just cut it out: Legal and ethical challenges in counseling students who self-mutilate. Professional School Counseling, 74, Levenkron, S. (1999). Cutting: Understanding and overcoming self-mutilation. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Strong, M. (1998). A bright red scream: Self-mutilation and the language of pain. New York, New York: Penguin Books. Walsh, B.W. (2006). Treating self-injury: A practical guide. New York: The Guilford Press. White Kress, V. E. (2003). Self-injurious behaviors: assessment and diagnosis. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81, Zila, L. M. & Kiselica, M. S. (2001). Understanding and counseling self-mutilation in female adolescents and young adults. Journal of Counseling and Development, 79, 1,


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