Cutting and Self Harm Treatment Center

Self Harm Treatment Center for Teens

Self Harm Treatment Center

Getting Treatment for Teenagers who Self Harm

A comprehensive treatment approach that includes traditional talk therapy, practicing new behaviors and a supporting family is best for adolescents who self-harm.

Teens tend to be daredevils who think nothing can harm them. It’s a time of life when reckless behavior such as speeding, skateboarding and experimenting with various substances is common. As irrational as it sounds, some adolescents are determined to intentionally injure themselves by cutting, burning or hitting.

Through her position as Director of Admissions at Elk River Treatment Program for adolescents, Kathy DeMellier has seen hundreds of teens successfully treated for self-harm while at Elk River Treatment Program. Without the distractions of cell phones, social media, friends and sometimes well-meaning family members, teens can focus on getting better with the help of mental health professionals while being monitored around-the-clock by an experienced, adult staff.

Types of Self Harm

Cutting, most often seen in girls, is the most common type of self-harming behavior, said DeMellier. The cuts are often small, superficial and may be hidden under clothing - sometimes for years. Some teens use sharp objects to injure themselves. Others use their fingernails.

Burning, head-banging and punching walls are other methods of self-harm. Studies have found that roughly 17 percent of adolescents deliberately hurt themselves, with a typical onset age of 13 to 14. The consensus seems to be that these teens are not suicidal, even though they may break their own bones or ingest toxic substances. Non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI, can sometimes lead to a phenomenon of self-harm addiction that makes it difficult to stop.

Strangely enough, they hurt themselves to feel better.

“The behavior is a way for these young people to get their feelings out,” DeMellier said, “because they struggle to express what is really bothering them. After time in the residential program, we often learn from them that feeling something – even pain, is better than feeling nothing,” she said.

Parents should understand that self-harm is usually not isolated, and it is often occurring with other struggles the child is facing. Self-harm is the symptom of a deeper issue.

It doesn’t help that teens are great at hiding things. Some websites even offer tips on how to keep parents from finding out about self-destructive behavior. “Sometimes it’s very visible, but more often the secrecy prevents parents from seeing that their child is struggling,” she said.

Signs of Self Harm

For many, the roots of teen self-harm lead to the middle school years. DeMellier said that’s a time when children are more defiant and trying to find themselves.

Often these issues manifest after some type of loss, she said. That doesn’t necessarily mean an actual death in the young person’s life, but possibly a divorce, a parent losing a job, or even finding out that he or she is on the autism spectrum which is often perceived by the child as the loss of a normal life.

Immersive programs at self-harm treatment centers are beneficial because they provide a safe, secure environment for teens to address issues with their peers. Perhaps most importantly, an inpatient treatment center can show kids that they’re not alone. Teens are more likely to open up and talk in group settings. “There’s a lot to be said for being in a structured program,” DeMellier said. “They are hearing they aren’t the only kids in the world who have an issue like theirs.”

Therapists who specialize in self-harm treatment understand that talking is key to getting to the root of a young person’s maladaptive behaviors. In addition to individual and group therapy, a successful inpatient or residential treatment program includes the child’s family and offers opportunities to practice new learned behaviors.

“The hard piece is practicing the new ways of coping while under stress. Our clients are in groups a large portion of the day and like a family, situations arise unexpectedly. That’s when they either revert to old coping methods or recognize the trigger and use their new coping skills. It’s practicing day-after-day that helps them continue to succeed when they return home.”

Parents who are looking for the “easy fix” of a pill should not count on it for self-injurious behavior, although medication might help with other issues often found co-occurring with it.

Why Do I Self Harm?

Scars, cuts, burns, bruised hands or long sleeves in summer might be the first alarm bell for a broader range of problems. The important thing to remember is that these behaviors are almost always in conjunction with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, defiance or eating disorders.

Self-harm inpatient treatment provides therapists with opportunities to uncover the root cause of self-harm. “Like peeling away the layers of an onion,” DeMellier said.

Modern life for teens is more complicated that most parents imagine. Many young people being treated for issues these days are “more clinically and behaviorally complicated than ever before,” DeMellier said. “There has been a huge change since I started my first job at a residential program for adolescents in 1986.”

In this digital age, she said, “everything is at your fingertips and you have immediate gratification for anything and everything in your life.”

And then there’s the dark side of social media.

“When you and I were kids and were not invited to a birthday party, we probably didn’t know about it,” she said. “Today’s kids know it – sometimes in real time. They are living through social media.”

Some researchers are even starting to look at whether social media is having an impact on the rise of depression and anxiety in the population at large. It’s harder these days to have healthy, face-to-face interactions with people.

“We are definitely seeing an impact from the fact that our lives are out there for everybody to see,” DeMellier said. But with therapy, support and practice, adolescents can find alternatives to this self-destructive path.