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How Self-Harm Support Groups Can Be Helpful

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

By its nature, self-harm is a secretive and isolating behavior that can make it feel like you’re the only person on the planet who struggles with this issue. In reality, 17.2 percent of adolescents, 13.4 percent of young adults and 5.5 percent of adults self-injure, so none of us are alone. It can just feel that way.

This is where the power of a self-injury support group can make a huge difference in recovery. However, despite potential positive benefits, there are few self-injury dedicated support groups in existence, and this largely comes down to continued stigma.

Many practitioners still mistakenly believe self-injury is primarily an attention-seeking behavior. Therefore in a group setting, those who self-injure will need to increase the behavior in order to “gain attention.”

This is simply false.

Self-injury serves as a maladaptive coping skill to deal with difficult emotions, often arising from co-occurring mental illness, trauma or other issues. Many who self-injure want to recover, and support groups for self-injury can focus on dealing with the difficult emotions causing self-injury, treating self-injury as the symptom it is rather than piling on stigma by framing it as a personality defect.

This being said, self-injury contagion is possible in a group setting. Strict language guidelines — using terms such as “self-injury” or “self-harm instead of specific behaviors — ensure group members are not encouraging or triggering other members. With these guidelines in place, those who self-harm can build a healthy support system and share resources for recovery in a group setting, a powerful tool for making positive changes.

If you’re looking for self-injury-specific support groups, Psychology Today’s group directory can help you find resources in your area, as well as To Write Love on Her Arms’ local resource guide. S.A.F.E. Alternatives runs a clinic out of St. Louis and has a handful of S.A.F.E. Focus groups throughout the United States. And if you can’t find a group in your area, start your own!

If you’re struggling with self-injury, know you’re not alone. There’s no better way to discover this than safely engaging with peers who are walking the same path to recovery from self-injury in a group setting.

Follow this journey on Self-Injury Foundation

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio

Originally published: May 8, 2017
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