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Self-injury is a widely prevalent behaviour in teenagers, mental health professionals are in the frontline in helping to both understand and mitigate the behaviour.

September 7, 2010

Psychotherapists who have a practice that caters to teens and young adults will often hear their clients describe self-injuring behaviours such as cutting and branding. A less common variant involves embedding objects under the skin. There are rich symbolic associations that can help to decode the communication that these behaviours represent, but often the primary concern of those who care for the client (family members and medical professionals) is to have the behaviour stop. The psychotherapist too also hopes to reduce the potential for harm, but must also leave the space open for the communication, which may mean adopting a conditionally open attitude to the behaviour.

Self-embedding is a less common form of self-injury than cutting, said Joseph Garbely, chief medical officer at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. Teens who engage in self-mutilating behaviors tend to have low self esteem and problems dealing with their feelings, he said. Some come from abusive households. Others are doing it to rebel, or to imitate peers, or to regulate difficult emotions.


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