Cutting and other forms of self-harm behaviors often occur due to severe underlying issues such as past trauma, low self-esteem, abuse, bullying, family conflicts, anxiety, depression, eating disorders or substance abuse and often times these underlying problems go unnoticed and untreated. Individuals may often cover up their negative emotions through self-harm behaviors. The individual gains a superficial sense of emotional and mental relief after the harmful act is completed followed by feelings of shame or guilt resulting in even more negative emotions until this cycle continues. Therefore, treatment is aimed at recognizing these underlying triggers and finding supportive coping mechanisms that prevent these negative triggers and world to relieve the thoughts and actions associated with these triggers. Discovery is a leading mental health treatment center with locations nationwide. Discovery treats individuals substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders and works closely with each client to identify any form of past trauma and many of these disorders, including self-harm behavior, are closely linked to some form of trauma. Discovery also works to recognize and diagnose any co-occurring disorder such as an eating disorder, a mood disorder or a substance abuse disorder that is also present with the self-harm behavior.

Treating co-occurring disorders

Like self-harm behaviors, eating disorders can physically destroy the body resulting in medical complications such as gastric reflux, nutritional deficiencies, infertility, stunted growth, poor dentition, poor bone health, and anemia. Self-harm behaviors such as cutting can result in disfigurement. Social isolation, suicide, anxiety, broken relationships, depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and anxiety are all well-known consequences of both eating disorders and self-harm behavior and many professionals agree that self-harm behavior can result in eating disorders and vise versa. Discovery works closely with each client, whether they are initially diagnosed with an eating disorder or self-harm behavior, to recognize and signs and symptoms of another disorder that could be either the cause or the effect of the current disorder.

Self-harm behavior and EMDR therapy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was introduced to relieve the long-lasting effects of distressing and traumatic memories. This evidence-based therapy has been used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many other disorders associated with trauma. Complete treatment involves a three-pronged protocol that addresses past memories, the present disturbance, and future actions, which may be associated with the trauma. All of these must be addressed in order to alleviate the symptoms. Discovery has many therapists who are trained in trauma-informed therapy, including EMDR, and these therapists work closely with clients who have a history of self-injury behavior in order to uncover their pasts traumatic experiences that are tied to their self-harm behavior. Self-harm has been closely linked to past trauma and studies have shown that there are four main reasons why individuals engage in self-harm behavior: 1) to reduce negative emotions, 2) to feel “something” besides numbness or emptiness, 3) to avoid certain social situations, and 4) to receive social support.

Treating the client and not the disorder

Discovery works diligently to treat the client and not the disorder meaning that every client reacts and presents differently and therefore it is crucial to tailor the treatment to the specific client rather than practice the same type of treatment for everyone who engages in self-harm behaviors. By tailoring the therapy approach to each client, Discovery can treat the client as a whole rather than just isolating their disorder. Discovery also works closely with the client’s family, as the belief is that family therapy is necessary in order for the individual to thrive after acute treatment. Discovery works closely within the client’s community to provide them any community support and aftercare once the client has successfully completed acute therapy for their self-harm behavior.