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What Are the Treatments for Self-Injury?

There are several ways to treat self-injury. Because people usually self-injure as a way to cope with difficult or intense emotions, many treatments focus on teaching skills to help manage painful emotions in other ways and have been shown to be very effective.

DBT for Self-Injury

One of the most effective treatments for self-injury is a form of therapy called dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. During DBT, you work with a trained therapist who can help you learn how to manage difficult emotions by bringing your attention to the present moment, learning that you can tolerate distress and that it always passes, and increasing your ability to connect with other people in healthy ways. 

DBT takes time. Over the course of treatment, it teaches you effective skills for managing negative emotions and emotional crises. Your therapist will encourage you to practice these skills instead of doing something self-destructive when you are experiencing painful feelings. The really cool thing is that as you practice, you rewire your brain to react differently when you feel overwhelmed.

One recent study found that more than 90 percent of people were able to stop self-injuring after doing DBT for a year. Most people who stopped were able to do so about halfway through treatment.

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Another way to address self-injury is enrollment in a residential treatment center, or RTC. This approach takes you out of your everyday life and puts you in a facility with 24/7 care. It can be helpful for people who feel they need a total break from the day-to-day challenges of their lives to focus on healing.

Most RTCs require three or four hours of daily therapy, including DBT. Therapy types include group, individual, and family therapy. 

Depending on your situation, long-term full-time hospitalization can be a treatment option as well—especially if other methods such as DBT and short-term residential care have not worked.

Do Self-Injury Urges Ever Go Away?

Many people who use self-injury as a primary way to cope go in and out of periods when they self-injure. They may use cutting or other forms of self-injury over a period of time—such as when they are going through a stressful situation—and then stop for a while. Sometimes they can stop for weeks, months, or even years.

Unless they find and use other healthier ways of coping, however, they are likely to turn to self-injury again to manage stress or negative feelings. It’s a challenging pattern to stop without help. If you or someone you know is self-injuring, it’s important to reach out for support.

How to tell someone you are self-injuring and ask for help.

Ultimately treatment is considered successful if you can identify an urge to self-injure, use skills to manage the feelings behind the urge, and choose not to harm yourself at all.

If you need help right now:

Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.

Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.

If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text HOME to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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