Intentional self-injurious behavior, or self-harm, refers to a range of behaviors in which a person directly and deliberately causes harm to him or herself. The most common methods include superficial cutting, burning, scratching, or picking one’s skin, or banging one’s head. Although it is a common misunderstanding that self-injury is a form of suicidal behavior, in most cases it is not. The majority of people who intentionally self-injure reporting using the behavior to cope with very painful emotions, and report feeling relief from acute distress and/or emotional numbness. Individuals of all ages and genders may engage in self-injury.
Effective treatment of self-injury involves first generating a clear understanding of the function of the self-injurious behavior in the individual’s life. While there are some commonalities among those who self-injure, no two clients’ experiences are exactly alike, and a careful behavioral assessment is needed. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is known as the gold-standard of treatment for reducing self-injurious behavior. DBT includes strategies to assist clients in becoming more willing to relinquish self-injury, along with an evidence-based set of coping skills with which to replace the behavior.