Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a coping mechanism that is rising at alarming rates. “In Canada and the United States, prevalence ranges from 12% to 41% in community samples of adolescents and young adults,” said K. Jessica van Vliet, Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta. Most people who self-injure do so to cope with negative feelings, acceptance and social fears. “In particular, there is a need for counseling approaches that strengthen client emotion regulation, self-acceptance, and positive ways of relating with others,” said van Vliet. “Compassion-focused therapy (CFT), a form of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to help people relate to themselves with greater compassion, is proposed as an approach for addressing the most common underlying functions of non-suicidal self-injury.” This relatively new form of therapy is aimed at teaching self-acceptance, compassion, and emotional regulation.
Emotional regulation is one of the most common problems for people who self-injure. “Studies of NSSI have reported higher levels of negative emotions and subjective emotional distress and increased physiological reactivity to stress.” van Vliet said, “NSSI may also be related to having a limited repertoire of healthy strategies to cope with intense emotional arousal.” Studies have shown that compassion, the foundation of CFT, is a trait that, if directed inward, actually increases healthy psychological functioning. “Other studies have suggested that among college students self-compassion is correlated with adaptive coping and well-being in response to academic failure,” added van Vliet. Other research has indicated CFT helps NSSI clients relieve symptoms of anxiety, shame, depression and self-criticism. “Techniques such as compassion-based imagery that focus on both the inward and outward flows of compassion may also help clients relate to other people in more positive ways. A compassion-focused approach may also counteract self-directed hostility through self-directed warmth, understanding, and kindness.” van Vliet added, “To be effective, counseling interventions must address the underlying functions of NSSI, which are generally emotion regulation, self-punishment, and need for interpersonal influence.”
Van Vliet, Jessica K., and Genivieve RC Kalnins. “A Compassion-Focused Approach to Nonsuicidal Self-Injury.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling 33.4 (2011): 295-311. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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