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The Informed Parent

Self-Cutting, Part 2

by Sandra Smith, Ph.D.
Published on Jun. 20, 2005

The week of May 23-to-29, 2005 featured the article "Self-Cutting". We brought to the attention of our readers the tremendous stress and pressure put upon many adolescents and how they deal with it through self-cutting. Let us now continue to explore what can be done about it.

What should the informed parent do if he is sure his child is cutting?

If a parent even suspects that his child is cutting, he should talk to his primary care physician to seek out a mental health professional who can help.

Telling your child that cutting is not a good thing to do is not likely to be very valuable. You can hide sharp objects, but cutters will turn from one form of self-injury to another. If you leave a book of matches or a curling iron about, they will burn themselves. It is not simply stopping the cutting that is important. Parents must always understand that cutting may well be a symptom of major depression or a borderline personality disorder. Cutting always calls for treatment. It is a mistake to think that a child will "outgrow" it, or that it is just a "phase". Cutting is a sign of an underlying, serious problem.

What about a friend—what should a friend do if she finds out?

If a friend acknowledges that she is cutting, try to stay as calm as possible, even though this is a very troubling subject. It is important to let a friend know that you care, and you do not think that she is a bad person for cutting (ref.2).

Try to help your friend find an adult she can trust. If she cannot speak directly to the adult, perhaps she could write about what is happening in a letter or a journal for the adult to read. The important thing is to encourage your friend to talk to someone who can help her stop the cutting and deal with her problems. If your friend won't confide in a responsible adult, tell her that she deserves to feel better, and that you are going to tell someone who can help. She may be mad at you at first, but studies suggest that upwards to 90% of teens who get help for cutting discontinue this self-injurious behavior within one year (ref. 3). Ultimately, your friend will need to be seen by a professional psychologist or therapist who can recommend the best treatment plan for her.

Finally, be patient. Cutters sometimes take a fair amount of time to get to the root of their problems. Be prepared for ups and downs. And remember, it will not help to take on your friend's burden as your own--you can be a true friend without becoming drained by the situation.

Does the problem ever go away?

Cutting can be difficult to stop, but it is possible. Once the cutter gets some help in solving the problems that are underneath the behavior, chances are good for a healthier, happier life. Treatment usually includes individual and family psychotherapy, as well as medication. People who engage in self-injurious behaviors do best if they become involved with a psychotherapist whom they trust, who helps them, and whom they can see for a sustained period of time. A primary goal of therapy is learning to tolerate feelings, and to self-soothe in ways that do not include cutting or other self-injury.





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