Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
There's no one best way to treat self-injuring behavior, but the first step is to tell someone so you can get help. Treatment is based on your specific issues and any related mental health conditions you might have, such as depression.
Treating self-injury behavior can take time, hard work and your own desire to recover. Because self-injury can become a major part of your life and it's often accompanied by mental disorders, you may need treatment from a mental health professional experienced in self-injury issues.
There are several treatment options for self-injuring behavior.
Known as talk therapy or counseling, psychotherapy can help you identify and manage underlying issues that trigger self-injuring behavior. Therapy can also help you learn skills to better manage distress, help regulate your impulsiveness and other emotions, boost your self-image, better your relationships, and improve your problem-solving skills.
Several types of individual psychotherapy may be helpful, such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.
- Dialectical behavior therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches behavioral skills to help you tolerate distress, manage or regulate your emotions, and improve your relationships with others.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on identifying past experiences, hidden memories or interpersonal issues at the root of your emotional difficulties through self-examination guided by a therapist.
- Mindfulness-based therapies, which help you live in the present, appropriately perceive the thoughts and actions of those around you to reduce your anxiety and depression, and improve your general well-being.
In addition to individual therapy sessions, family therapy or group therapy also may be recommended.
There are no medications that specifically treat self-injuring behavior. However, your doctor may recommend treatment with antidepressants or other psychiatric medications to help treat depression, anxiety or other mental disorders commonly associated with self-injury. Treatment for these disorders may help you feel less compelled to hurt yourself.
If you injure yourself severely or repeatedly, your doctor may recommend that you be admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care. Hospitalization, often short term, can provide a safe environment and more intensive treatment until you get through a crisis. Day treatment programs also may be an option.
- Shedler J. The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist. 2010;65:98.
- Self-harm in young adults. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/SelfInjury_Fact_Sheet_FINAL.pdf. Accessed Oct. 11, 2010.
- What is self-injury, self-harm, self-abuse? The Official Newsletter of NAMI Springfield. 2012;2:1.
- Cutting. TeensHealth from Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/cutting.html. Accessed Oct. 11, 2012.
- Facts for families: Self-injury in adolescents. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. http://aacap.org/page.ww?name=Self-Injury+in+Adolescents§ion=Facts+for+Families. Accessed Oct. 11, 2012.
- Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml. Accessed Sept. 14, 2012.
- A family guide: What families need to know about adolescent depression. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Child_and_Adolescent_Action_Center&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=24806. Accessed Sept. 14, 2012.
- When you fear someone may take their life. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=f2f25092-7e90-9bd4-c4658f1d2b5d19a0. Accessed Sept. 14, 2012.
- Mental health and teens: Watch for danger signs. Healthychildren.org. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/Pages/default.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token. Accessed Oct. 11, 2012.
- Hofmann SG, et al. The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2010;78:1.
- Self-injury. NAMI On Campus. http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Find_Support/NAMI_on_Campus1/Mental_Illness_Fact_Sheets/Self-injury.pdf. Accessed Oct. 12, 2012.
- Barrocas AL, et al. Rates of nonsuicidal self-injury in youth: Age, sex, and behavioral methods in a community sample. Pediatrics. 2012;130:39.
- Lewis SP, et al. The scope of nonsuicidal self-injury on YouTube. Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org. Accessed Oct. 11, 2012.
- Palmer BA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. (Nov. 1, 2012).
- Alarcon RD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. (Nov. 4, 2012).