The second part of my article first published in the Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal (HCPJ) published by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), in January 2009:

At FirstSigns (LifeSIGNS) we define self-injury as a coping mechanism – something a person learns to rely on to help them deal with intolerable distress.

We do not focus on the self-injurious behaviour or method of wounding, but rather consider the emotional drivers behind the behaviour and the emotional state that self-injury brings about.

We have learned that a great many different behaviours that cause pain or damage to a person in an immediate sense come under the heading ‘self-injury’, and we know that self-injury is a very personal behaviour and that people come to it in their own, indirect ways. We have also learned that there are some activities and behaviours that are better described under the umbrella term, ‘self-harm’. The reason for the distinction is that the media throw around the term ‘self-harm’, and yet people mean a great many different things by this.

Self-injury and self-harm: definitions

Self-injury is a coping mechanism. An individual harms their physical self to deal with emotional pain or to break feelings of numbness by arousing sensation.

Self-harm is an umbrella term, an overarching definition that includes eating disorders, food-related issues, drug and alcohol misuse, risk-taking behaviours and self-injury.

A professional should never assume they know what other people mean when they say ‘self-injury’ or ‘self-harm’ – nobody can know what methods or feelings a client may be referring to with these two almost interchangeable words.

Self-harming behaviours

  • Self-harm:
    • Food related:
      • Controlled / restricted eating
      • Overeating
      • Bulimia
      • Anorexia
    • Drug and alcohol misuse
      • Alcoholicism
      • Binge drinking
      • Drug addiction; chronic or acure drug misuse
    • Risk taking
      • Sexual
      • Physically dangerous
      • Illegal / anti-authority
    • Self-injury
      • Cutting
      • Burning
      • Chemical
      • Branding
      • Scalding
      • Hair pulling
      • Banging / bruising, including bone breaking
      • Pricking
      • Biting
      • Ingesting, including chronic self-medicating, overdosing (chronic or acute), self-poisoning, swalling objects

We have a whole section of our website dedicated to explaining self-injury and self-harm, alongside an easier to view diagram which is more comprehensive – see ‘What SI is‘.

Coming next: Not just a girl thing.

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