Cutting and Self-Harm: Warning Signs and Treatment
Parents should watch for symptoms and encourage kids to get help.
Turning Inward to Heal continued...
Circular negative thinking keeps kids from developing self-esteem. "We help
them empower themselves, take risks in confrontation, change how they view
themselves," says Conterio. "If you can't set limits on someone else's
behavior, stand up to them -- you can't like yourself. Once these girls learn
to take care of themselves, stand up for what they want, they will like
"We want them to get to the point where they believe, 'I am somebody, I do
have a voice, I can make changes, instead of, 'I'm nobody,'" she says.
One study of the SAFE program showed that, two years after participating,
75% of patients had a decrease in symptoms of self-injury. An ongoing study is
indicating a decrease in hospitalizations and emergency room visits.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and the success rate is far greater than
the failure rate," says Conterio. "We truly believe that if people can continue
to make healthy choices, they won't go back to self-harm. We get emails that
are a blast from the past. Some patients do extremely well. Others regress.
Others have finally decided to do the work they learned here. When they apply
it, they do well. It all goes back to choice."
The bottom line: "When kids decide they don't want to cut any more - and
they get stressed again -- they have to be able to manage stress as it arises,"
Rosen says. "They can't succumb to cutting. People who can figure out some
alternative way to manage stress will eventually quit it."
Parents can help by providing emotional support, helping identify early
warning signs, helping kids distract themselves, lowering the child's stress
level, and providing supervision at critical times, Rosen says. "But a parent
can't do it for them. It takes a certain level of resource to be able to stop
cutting, and many kids don't have those resources. They need to stay in therapy
until they get to that point."
Self-harm is not a problem that kids simply outgrow, Rosen adds. "Kids who
develop this behavior have fewer resources for dealing with stress, fewer
coping mechanisms. As they develop better ways of coping, as they get better at
self-monitoring, it's easier to eventually give up this behavior. But it's much
more complicated than something they will outgrow."