header-image-1.jpg

Archive for the ‘counseling’ Category

Heart for Mental Health Event

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Speaking Event

Christian Family Institute is honored to take part in the Heart for Mental Health event Friday, March 10, 2017.

Come support efforts to educate, raise awareness, learn about resources, and experience training in mental health.

Register your attendance with Dr. Roddy of Advanced Eye Care, Inc. 

Participating partners:

Southern Hills Baptist Church – Celebrate Recovery

Bright Tomorrows

Hope is Alive Mentoring Homes

Teen Challenge

Heart for Mental Health flyer

Non-Medication Ways to Treat Biological Issues In Mental Health

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

stamp-895383_1920The treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns, typically involves a multilevel plan of intervention. We typically address social, psychological, spiritual, and biological areas. The area of biological intervention is the focus of this particular article.

Typically when we think about biological intervention, the assumption is that we are discussing medication. Yes, medication is a biological intervention, and in some situations, is an important part of the treatment plan. However, psychotropic medications are not the only biological treatments available. How we eat, our activity level, and even how much we get outside and get enough light exposure can affect our moods.

carrot-1085063_1920A healthy diet, can be a very helpful tool in impacting mental health concerns. We all know the circumstances where we’ve had a heavy meal or have indulged in poor choices of food, and as a result we don’t feel well for the short team. For the long term, healthy nutrition also plays a part in how our brain works. Having appropriate balances of macro nutrients, and micro nutrients is very important. One particular area that has shown some promise in improving mental health concerns is omega-3 fatty acids. There is a lot of research that suggests that these particular nutrients may have a mental health benefit. An increase in omega-3 rich foods may be helpful. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, such as fish oil capsules, might also be of benefit. However, do not begin any kind of significant dietary supplementation, without consulting your physician.

It has been well known for some time that exercise is beneficial for your mental health. Some well established research, has even suggested that exercise can be as beneficial as medication for the treatment of depression. We are not talking about training for a marathon, or becoming an Olympian. Going for a brisk walk several times a week is enough to create significant benefit for most individuals. Even increasing activity level by choosing to take the stairs as opposed to an elevator or walking more by parking further out in a parking lot, may be helpful. Again, exercise routines should not be implemented without consulting with your physician.

running-573762_1280Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a depression related diagnoses that is heavily influenced by the amount of light exposure a person receives. It is typically treated with exposure to bright light. This is a powerful and effective therapy for those who live in low light environments, such as wintertime in more northern areas. Recent research has suggested that the same light therapy may be useful for depression in general. So making sure that someone gets outside and receives an hour, or more, of exposure to bright light is a good idea. Most of the time it is suggested that this light exposure take place earlier in the morning. If someone cannot get outside, there are therapeutic light devices that facilitates getting enough light exposure to improve mood. The latest research has suggested that blue spectrum light is the source of the greatest benefit for this kind of treatment. In order to acquire one of these therapeutic blue spectrum lights, there may be a need to receive a prescription from your physician. Any decision to pursue such a line of treatment should be made in consultation with your physician.

I am not saying that these treatments by themselves will be a complete cure for depression or other concerns. However, in the context of a multi modal treatment plan, that includes therapy, possible medical intervention, and accessing social and spiritual resources, these interventions can be quite useful.

By Eric Clements

Self-Talk

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

criticism-440219_1280You are a powerful influence over your mood and self-esteem. How you think about yourself and the words you say (your self-talk) matter. Through self-talk, you provide opinions and evaluations on what you’re doing as you are doing it. When it’s upbeat and self-validating, the results can boost your confidence and motivation. When the messages are critical and harsh, however, the effects can be emotionally harmful. People with clinical levels of depression may have frequent and relentless forms of destructive self-talk. The more you talk yourself down and second guess yourself, the less free you are to creatively find solutions to daily problems.

More than likely, you aren’t aware of how frequent negative self-talk is occurring throughout your day. This destructive style may cause you to question yourself to the point of becoming paralyzed with self-doubt and uncertainty. Examples of these messages may include:

1) I am not interesting
2) I have no talent
3) People don’t like me

On the other hand, with constructive self-talk, you cheer yourself on, focus on the positive aspects of a situation and allow yourself to feel good. Positive self-talk has stress management benefits, productivity benefits and even health benefits. A few suggestions to try during stressful situations include:

1) This too shall pass and my life will be better
2) Look at how well I handled that situation
3) One step at a time
4) I am doing the best I can

Being aware of what you are saying to yourself is the first step. Changing the negative statements to more positive ones is the second. Other ideas on where to begin include:

1) Limiting negative influences in your life
2) Reading aloud positive affirmations
3) Identifying and confronting your fears
4) Focusing on the enjoyable moments in life

Implementing these changes a little at a time can bring satisfying results. If you need help, give us a call; the counselors at CFI are trained to assist you.

by Lois Trost, M.S.W.

(more articles on self talk)

TEENAGE SUICIDE: PREVENTION: HOW TO ASK YOUR TEENAGER ABOUT SUICIDE (PART 4)

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I NOTICE SOME WARNING SIGNS?
(part 1; part 2; part 3)

Many parents fear asking their child about suicide thinking that by asking they might give their teenager some ideas or perhaps plant a thought in their head that may be acted upon later. As result they never ask and end up surprised! Don’t be that kind of parent, ask your teenagers about suicide. Questions never killed anyone, if anything the question will let your teenager know you care. However, don’t forget that relationship is always the key to getting good information. So if you want to get the truth from your child you will need to approach them with great care and loads of respect. Chances are you will have earned the right to ask them about suicide because you have been working hard to connect with them over the past few weeks and months by meeting them right where they are and taking the time to really listen (without judgment and without pressure) to what has been going on in their life.

HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN ASKING ABOUT SUICIDE:
First, take a deep breath and try to stay calm. Of course there is a chance that when you ask them if they have ever thought about suicide that they will say yes. This “yes” may be one of the scariest “yes’s” you have ever heard and you will need to be prepared for the emotional impact this has on you. No parent ever wants to hear about their child having considered suicide, but don’t forget that you are not alone; many other parents have gone before you and survived.

Second, once you have calmed down you will need to try your best to ask about the following 4 things (White, 1999): (Remember, you are not a mental health professional and no one expects you to be, however, having more information is going to be really helpful when trying to help your teenager cope with this stuff both now and in the future).

STUFF TO ASK ABOUT:
IDEATION: Thinking about suicide and planning your death are two different things. Studies have found that 20-30% of teenagers will report experiencing thoughts of suicide at some point during their teenage years (Brener, Krug, Simon, 2000; Kandel, Raveies, & Davies, 1991). While these numbers are alarmingly high, it would seem that thoughts about suicide are fairly common during the teenage years, so you will need to be ready to deal with them.

INTENT: As stated above thinking about suicide and wanting to die are two different things, however they always need to be assessed together. When your teenager tells you that they have thought about suicide your next question needs to be about motivation; do they want to die?

MOTIVATION: By asking about their intentions you are attempting to figure out if they really want to die, are attempting to manipulate, are crying out for help, or have some other reason for wanting to die (White, 1999). Remember, that just because they maybe attention seeking or manipulating does not mean that they are not a serious risk! In most cases they will say “no” when asked about motivation, however its fairly common for someone who has experienced thoughts of suicide to be somewhat ambivalent about their desire to die; a part of them wants to die, yet another part of them doesn’t. Helping them resolve this conflict may be the key to keeping them safe.

Here are some questions you could ask to assess INTENT (White, 1999):

“Why do you want to die?
“What are the contents of your thoughts?”
“What does death mean to you?”
“How long have you been thinking about hurting yourself?”
“How frequent and persistent are the thoughts?”
“Are you pre-occupied or obsessed with the idea of killing yourself?”
“Can you control your thoughts?”

PLAN:
Having a plan is often the most important part of determining what is going on with your teen. Suicide can occur without a well thought out plan, however most individuals experiencing thoughts and intentions will often very quickly arrive at a plan. Some will spend days, even weeks, planning their attempt without telling a soul.

Questions to ask yourself in addressing your teenager’s plan (White, 1999):

How far has the adolescent developed the plan?
When is the proposed plan going to occur?
How specific is the plan? (place, time, method)
Is the plan effective and feasible?
Is the adolescent’s chosen method lethal?
Will he/she have access to the chosen means when he/she needs it?
Does he/she know how to use the means?
Has he/she rehearsed his plan?
Has he/she taken precautions to avoid rescue?

METHODS AND MEANS:
When asking about your teen’s plan you will want to try and figure out just how plausible their plan appears to be. While every suicidal thought, intent, and plan should be taken very seriously and properly addressed by a competent mental health professional, some plans need to be taken much more seriously than others. The more lethal the means the more dangerous your teenager might be.

The 4 most common means of teenage suicide are:

Guns: Firearms typically account for about 60% of all completed suicides in the United States and any suicidal thought or plan that incorporates their use needs to be taken very seriously!
Cars: While there does not appear to be any statistics regarding teenager’s use of cars as a means of suicide, it is safe to say that not every death by auto accident is an “accident.”
Drugs: Drug overdose is very common in western culture and many, if not most, of the suicide attempt victims I have worked with decided to kill themselves by taking a handful of pills, or combine pills with alcohol.
Combination of all three

When asking about METHODS and MEANS you need to ask about two things:

ACCESS: Does your teen have access to the tools they are planning to use? Consider guns, knives, explosives, belts, ropes, sheets, medications (prescription and over the counter), drugs and of course alcohol.
KNOWLEDGE: You will need to find out how much your teen knows about the means they have mentioned. Do they even know how to use a gun? Do they know how to hang themselves? Etc.

PLEASE REMEMBER…Any person who is experiencing thoughts of suicide needs to be assessed by a mental health professional as soon as possible!

***Any advice given on this website is offered in generic form. In other words, all of our site visitors have unique qualities that play a role in their personal mental health. We do not know you personally and can therefore not take into consideration these qualities when offering advice, and do not claim to do so. All information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing psychologist, mental health professional, teacher, or professor.***

REFERENCES:
Brener, N. D., Krug, E. G., Simon, T. R. (2000). Trends in suicide ideation and suicide behavior among high school students in the United States, 1991-1997. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior, 30, 304-312.
Kandel, D. B., Raveis, V. H., & Davies, M. (1991). Suicidal ideation in adolescence: Depression, substance use, and other risk factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20, 289-309.
White, T. W. (1999). How to identify suicidal people: A systemic approach to risk assessment. The Charles Press Publishers, Inc., PA.

by Joe James, Psy.D.
other articles on teens

When Your Child is Anxious

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

We all strive to provide a safe and satisfying life for our children. We want to protect them, as long as reasonably possible, from the worries of this life. However, some children (adults as well) just seemed prone to be more anxious than others. This can be very discouraging for parents. These children tend to find things to worry about. They often find things that seem outrageous for a child to be concerned with, yet they lose sleep and find these thoughts intrusive and overwhelming.

So what is a parent to do? Initially, avoid going into panic mode. Managing your own anxiety is an important part of helping our children manage theirs. Also, episodes of anxiety that go away as quickly as they begin, are not abnormal for many children. We all have struggled with these moments in our lives. However, if a child has developed a pattern of excessive worry and it is beginning to impact his or her ability to function, then intervention is indicated.

Initially, helping a child to think clearly, and providing appropriate reassurance, may be all the help that is needed. Also, aiding them to find healthy diversions, to short circuit troubling thoughts, can be very helpful. Even simple lifestyle habits like a healthy diet and exercise can be useful tools in overcoming anxiety.

If these things are not enough, then professional help may be necessary. Many parents will want to start with their pediatrician. It is useful to have the pediatrician involved early in the process so that possible medical concerns can be ruled out from the start. The pediatrician may suggest seeing a therapist. A therapist can help the family determine the sources of the anxiety problem and suggest appropriate treatments. Typically, treatment will involve a combination of individual and family therapies. Treatment will often focus on controlling troublesome thoughts and managing stresses in a child’s life. If response to these interventions is not sufficient, there may be a need to include medical intervention. The pediatrician and/or a psychiatrist would need to be consulted on these occasions.

Throughout all these processes, it is important for parents to be patient, hopeful and encouraging. The ability to model hopefulness and realistic expectations will go a long way though all aspects of treatment.

by Eric Clements, M.S.

(more articles on anxiety)

(more articles on children and parenting)

Pastors, Churches, and Mental Health: It’s Time to Talk About It

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Quick Quiz:

1) How often do you hear about mental health in your church?
2) How many people in the church experience mental illness?
3) How many pastors experience mental illness?

If your answers are:

1. once a year, rarely, or never, your experience would match 66% of churches in America. (see link to Christianity Today article below)1
2. 1 in 4, the same as people outside the church, you would be correct
3. 1 in 4, the same as the general population, you would once again be correct.

 

Surprised? You might be thinking, “I thought within the church we should be better off or more healthy than those outside the church.” Or perhaps you might be thinking “surely pastors are healthier people than the ‘rest of us’.” Nope! We who spend time in churches experience the same levels of mental health problems as the general population of the United States. But sadly, we may be more reluctant to seek professional help.

How many people think mental health should be discussed more often in church? LifeWay Research found that 59-65% of churchgoers would like to talk more about mental illness in church. LifeWay Research also found that 68% of churches maintain a list of mental health providers, but only 28% of church members know about those resources.

Many people turn to their pastors for help when they have encounter mental health or addictions issues, and many pastors are equipped to help a little, and certainly pray with you and connect you with support and community. However, most pastors do not have the training or availability to walk people through mental health counseling that is often required to cope with mental illness.

So, what do we do about it? Talk about it. Talk about it in your small groups. Talk about it with people with whom you have built community. Talk about it from the pulpit. Help people get the help they need. If you are a pastor, be a model for others by seeking help yourself.

On behalf of Christian Family Institute, I would like to thank Tony Cooke Ministries for a recent invitation to discuss suicide and how concerned people can help. We would also like to thank River Oaks Presbyterian Church for tackling issue of mental health from the pulpit this August.

This article was in response to 1 Christianity Today’s article posted by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra on 9/22/14. You should read it. Also, you should talk about mental health at church.
by Dr. Tim Doty

Dr. Doty’s web site

Twitter

What Causes Depression

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

There is no single known cause of depression. Rather, it likely results from a combination of a number of factors. Psychology textbooks like to talk about “nature versus nurture”: are people’s problems the result of genetics and brain chemistry (nature) or the result of family environment, life experiences, and choices (nurture)? The truth is that nearly all of human experience is some combination of both.

 

Depression is no different. If you ask your family doctor, she might tell you that depression is a “chemical imbalance”: there are not enough serotonin or dopamine molecules hanging around in your brain waiting to be used. The solution for a chemical imbalance is – medication.

A counselor might tell you that depression is the result of distorted or negative thinking. If you want to change how you feel, you have to change how you think.

The best research indicates that depression does affect the way the brain works. New technologies have shown that the brains of people who are depressed look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. We also know that people who are depressed view the world in globally negative terms.

So which came first?  Did brain chemistry create negative thinking?  Or, did negative cognitions change the chemical make-up of the brain?  How we think – what we say to ourselves – can lead to a chemical imbalance. Likewise, not enough neurotransmitters in the brain can cause us to see the world as completely negative.

The best thing one can do for mild or moderate depression is to work on changing perceptions and self-talk. For severe depression, a combination of anti-depressant medication and counseling may be in order.  If I had to choose one or the other, I would pick counseling… medication may help me function more effectively, but – in the end – it won’t change what I say to myself.

G. Bowden McElroy, M.Ed.

(for additional articles on depression: click here)

My Teenager is Cutting Themselves- Now What? (Part2)

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

(Part 1 can be found here.)

As a parent, what should you do when you have discovered that your teenager has been intentionally cutting or hurting himself or herself? Teenage cutting appears to be more and more common these days and is something you should take very seriously. However dealing with this kind of problem can be very difficult for both you and your adolescent so it is imperative that you take the time to manage yourself, ask some really good questions, educate yourself, and take appropriate action. But first, let me give you some advice on what not to do.

Things Not to Do:

  • Act like it’s not a big deal
  • Ignore it
  • Go on an hour long emotional tirade
  • Lecture
  • Berate or belittle your son or daughter
  • Blame the behavior on something simplistic
  • Say “you just did it for attention” (even though sometimes you may believe this to be true)
  • Punish
  • Threaten to do more damage
  • Blame it all their “friends”

WHAT TO DO:
MANAGE YOURSELF:

Take a deep breath. Discovering that your teenager has been hurting him or her self is disturbing and dramatic. It only makes sense that you would be upset (if you weren’t that maybe a sign of an even bigger problem). Cutting is a behavior that can be very hard for a parent to understand and it can leave you feeling helpless, horrified, angry, disgusted and sad. However it is really important that you do not over react. Your teenager is already experiencing enough emotional pain, the last thing they need is for you to be out of control. If you need a few moments to collect your thoughts and emotions please take the time to call a friend for help. Now is not the time to leave your child alone so you may need to have someone else come over for a bit to just sit with you and your family. Your response may be the key to your teenager getting the help they need and you and your teenager developing a deeper connection relationally.

ASK QUESTIONS:
You will need to get a better understanding of what your teenager has been doing so you can do your best to ensure their safety and get them the right kind of help. Asking about self-harming behaviors is very similar to asking about suicide; it can be very uncomfortable for all parties and will no doubt elicit an emotional response from your teenager. Be prepared! For a brief outline about how to ask your teenager about suicide or cutting take a minute to look at my post on teenage suicide (link here).

EDUCATE YOURSELF:
Assumptions and misinformation can create a lot of problems in relationships, especially with teenagers. Cutting and self-harm, although quite common today, is something that you may have no experience with, meaning you will need to educate yourself if you ever hope to understand where your teenager is coming from. Cutting behaviors can be very complicated mentally and emotionally with no easy answers (there doesn’t appear to be an “easy button” for this one). Each teenager cuts for their own reason, however; the professionals who deal with this stuff on a regular basis have discovered some common themes.

Cutting is often used:

To relieve terrible feelings of tension
To obtain self-control
To obtain a sense of identity
To regain a sense of normalcy when emotional numbing has caused feeling of estrangement from the rest of the world
To manipulate others
To express self-hatred
To enhance sexual feelings
To experience euphoria
To vent feelings of anger and frustration
To relieve feelings of stress, tension, alienation (White, 1999)

Gaining an understanding of why your teenager has been cutting can be difficult and will require extensive therapy with a qualified mental health professional. Understanding the “why” behind the cutting is important. However, you should be forewarned that you may not like the “why” and most likely will feel confused and angry. Self destructive behaviors often elicit anger and confusion from others, especially parents. Consequently, by taking time to talk to your teenager about cutting you may discover that you can relate to your teenager’s reasons, putting you in a stronger position to use this tragic and horrible circumstance as a means of connecting with them relationally.

FINALLY, TAKE ACTION:
Although cutting (self-harm) and suicide are not the same thing, they are very closely related. Studies show that as many as 70% of teenagers who report an act of cutting or self-harm also report at least one suicide attempt (Nock, Joiner, Gordon, Lloyd-Richardson, & Prinstein, 2006, as cited by Hargus, Hawton, & Rodham, 2009). You will need to seek the help of a mental health professional who is passionate about teenagers and adequately trained to deal with depression, anxiety, suicide, and self-harm. Most mental health professionals are capable of handling these types of issues, however not every therapist may be the right fit for your situation. Also, please take a minute to read through my posts regarding suicide and be sure to put together an adequate safety plan with your professional.

***Any advice given on this website is offered in generic form. In other words, all of our site visitors have unique qualities that play a role in their personal mental health. We do not know you personally and can therefore not take into consideration these qualities when offering advice, and do not claim to do so. All information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing psychologist, mental health professional, teacher, or professor.***

REFERENCES:

Hargus, E., Hawton, K., Rodham, K. (2009). Distinguishing between subgroups of adolescents who self-harm. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behaviors, 39(5), 518-537.

White, T. W. (1999). How to identify suicidal people: A systemic approach to risk assessment. The Charles Press Publishers, Inc., PA.

Joe James, Psy.D.

Understanding the New Definition of Autism

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

About a year ago, the American Psychiatric Association published its latest diagnostic manual. Known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-V), it has a number of changes from the previous edition, and not all of them are popular. One of those changes has to do with the Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Previously the DSM-IV, identified three different diagnoses, that were understood to be on the Autism spectrum. (There were others that had some relationship, but aren’t as relative to this article.) Autism, was used in situations where social, academic and self care skills, were all significantly impaired. Aspergers, was used when there was less impairment, and that impairment was usually focused, in the social realm. Often, academic capacity, might even be enhanced. This enhancement might be focused in specific academic fields. Pervasive Developmental Disorder was used when there was some level of impairment, but it was even less severe than Aspergers. Many individuals with Aspergers or Pervasive Developmental Disorder, can be quite creative, and likely have been significant contributors to very many, of the scientific and engineering advances, across the history of humanity.

In the DSM-V, all of the above diagnoses, are listed as Autism. Then the level of severity is identified. The phrase “on the spectrum” is often used, to identify individuals who have, Autism related difficulties, with widely varying degrees of severity. This use of a single term, is controversial for a number of reasons. Because of how the word “Autism” has been used historically, those on the higher level of functioning and their families, often prefer the previous designations. The association with the more significant level of impairment, is considered a hindrance, to their acceptance, by society. Many, had been able to take some level of pride, in the previous labels, as more than likely, names like Einstein, Tesla, and Bill Gates, could be counted among their numbers. The broadened use of the Autism label would remove much of this positive perspective.

However, this change in terminology, has very little, if any, impact on the manner in which we treat and interact with those who are “on the spectrum”. The following are some things to consider when dealing with someone identified with these issues.

-Those on the spectrum typically do not read facial expression and tone of voice well. Coaching them to become aware of these elements of communication, is very important.

-They do have emotions, but often appear emotionless. We must be careful with what we say and do around them. We are still impacting them, in either an encouraging or discouraging manner, even if it does not appear to be the case.

-Often they deal with hidden anxiety and depression. Our interactions with them still necessitates the skills of being a safe person, who listens to and cares for them. As with everyone else, those on the spectrum, will find this helpful as they deal with these distressing emotional issues.

-Understanding social appropriateness is difficult. i.e. conversation topics with buddies, may not be appropriate with your teacher. We must not jump to conclusions when these inappropriate statements or topics seem to come out of nowhere. This is an opportunity to educate them about related social skills.

-There may be difficulty dealing with some sensory triggers. Loud noises, large crowds, temperatures, some touch or textures may be troublesome. Occupational Therapists use the diagnosis of, Sensory Integration Disorder, and they can be quite helpful in treating these issues.

-Many of these individuals, are quite brilliant and creative. Many, if not most of the innovations that make up modern life, are the result of someone who has aspects of high functioning Autism (Aspergers). Helping them to see the positive in this, can be quite encouraging.

-Parents will need to educate themselves about their child’s difficulties, and become their advocate in many situations. Some situations may include educational, church, teams, extended family, and even with neighbors and friends with whom they may be spending significant time.

Therapy can be quite useful for the families and individuals who are dealing with these particular disorders. If you think someone you love may be dealing with Autism spectrum issues, please consider finding a therapist to serve your needs.

Eric Clements
www.EricClements.com

MY TEENAGER IS CUTTING THEMSELVES – NOW WHAT? (PART I)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Like suicide, cutting and other types of self-harm appear to be all too common among teenagers today. In the United States cutting and self-harm is typically defined as, “hurting one’s self without the intent to die” (Hargus, Hawton, & Rodham, 2009). Although different from suicide most experts would agree that cutting and suicide appear to be closely related. Studies show that as many as 70% of teenagers who report an act of cutting or self-harm also reporting at least one suicide attempt (Nock, Joiner, Gordon, Lloyd-Richardson, & Prinstein, 2006, as cited by Hargus, Hawton, & Rodham, 2009).

Self-harm doesn’t always appear as cutting. Many times it may include:

Scratching
Biting
Burning the skin
Repetitive banging of the head, hands, arms, or feet
Eye-gouging
Ingesting foreign objects
Inserting objects into the body (White, 1999)

Most common items used to cut include:

  • Disposable razors: Far and away the biggest hit! Your teenage may be breaking the head of the razor and using the blade to cut. It is a good option for them because most parents do not consider these types of blades to be a threat, they are located in the bathroom (easy clean up and privacy), and they are easy to hide.
  • Razors from box cutters: Once again these blades are easy to hide and very sharp.
  • Kitchen knives: Most American homes have 10 or more kitchen knives. If one goes missing who will notice?
  • Pocketknives and hunting knives: Teenage boys seem to like this option as well. It is “normal” for them to have a knife so no one will think twice about it’s presence in their room.

If your teenager is cutting, the cuts may often appear somewhat superficial, however psychologically they are no less significant. Arms appear to be the most common location followed by the legs. Your teenager may go to great lengths to hide their cutting including wearing long sleeve shirts in the summer, coats in the spring, and hooded sweatshirts daily.

Your teenager may be cutting for one or more reasons including:

To relieve terrible feelings of tension
To obtain self-control
To obtain a sense of identity
To regain a sense of normalcy when emotional numbing has caused feeling of estrangement from the rest of the world
To manipulate others
To express self-hatred
To enhance sexual feelings
To experience euphoria
To vent feelings of anger and frustration
To relieve feelings of stress, tension, alienation (White, 1999)

REASONS FOR CUTTING CAN BE UNIQUE

As you can imagine the reason your teenager is cutting can become complicated. They may tell you its because it relieves stress or it makes them feel alive. Some may even state that it makes them feel in control or it helps them to “get their feelings out.” As parents you might even find yourself thinking “its cuz they want something from me” or “they are manipulative and want attention.” Although it is common for parents to feel this way about their child’s cutting, especially if the cutting persists over a long period of time, it is vital that you do not allow these thoughts to effect your attitude. The resentment and anger that often comes with being a parent of a teenager who cuts, not only gets in the way of treatment, but it may cause you to emotionally withdrawal from your child, damaging the relationship and creating a greater need for the youth to cut. Understanding why your teen cuts is something you will need to discuss with your personal mental heath professional.

The common theme in each of the reasons listed above is emotion. Teenagers who cut themselves typically have difficulty coping with their emotions consequently they avoid experiencing them all together. This process of emotional hiding or emotional denial can be damaging and seems to be one of the root causes of both depression and severe anxiety (fear/stress) (Allen, McHugh, & Barlow, 2008).

TWO MORE THINGS:

First, cutting typically is not about rebellion or defiance. It’s about emotion. When addressing the issue with your teen, it is imperative that your see it as something tender, something relational with its roots in emotional pain rather than rebellion. If you view it as defiance it may make you angry causing you to push your child away, rather than seeing it as painful causing you to move closer emotionally.

Second, teenagers who cut also typically have a low self-esteem. Your teenager may not openly state that they hate themselves, but this belief can often appear in other ways (ie. other self destructive behaviors such as abuse of drugs and alcohol, damaging relationships, or aggression). Demeaning your child for cutting is counter productive. Rather than getting angry and feeling guilty or ashamed, most teens wish that their parents would move closer to them emotionally. Taking some time to really talk to your teen in a non judgmental manner will not only help you better understand their thought processes it will provide your teenager the opportunity to do the very thing they have been trying to avoid; emotionally connect with another person.

Joe James, Psy.D.

***Any advice given on this website is offered in generic form. In other words, all of our site visitors have unique qualities that play a role in their personal mental health. We do not know you personally and can therefore not take into consideration these qualities when offering advice, and do not claim to do so. All information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing psychologist, mental health professional, teacher, or professor.***

REFERENCES:
Allen, L. B., McHugh, R. K., Barlow, D. H. (2008). Emotional Disorders: A unified protocol. In D. H. Barlow (Ed.), Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual (pp. 216-244). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Hargus, E., Hawton, K., Rodham, K. (2009). Distinguishing between subgroups of adolescents who self-harm. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behaviors, 39(5), 518-537.

White, T. W. (1999). How to identify suicidal people: A systemic approach to risk assessment. The Charles Press Publishers, Inc., PA.