Adolescence is a time of emotional turmoil and many young people use self-injurious behaviors as a way to cope with psychological distress. However, self-harm can lead to suicide, thus increasing the importance of treating this issue in these children. “Self-harm in adolescence is a common problem with lifetime prevalence of attempted suicide of 9.7%, whereas an additional 13.2% of adolescents engage in self-harm at some point during that period,” said researchers from King’s College, London. “Self-harm is one of the strongest predictors of eventual death by suicide in adolescence, increasing the risk up to 10-fold.”
Dennis Ougrin of Kings College, along with colleagues, conducted a study to determine how therapeutic intervention affected suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm behaviors in adolescents. Research shows that most teens with these tendencies also struggle with psychological issues including depression, drug abuse, antisocial behaviors and conduct and aggression problems. Seventy adolescents were selected from the Trial of Therapeutic Assessment in London (TOTAL) for the study. Half of the participants were enrolled in a therapeutic assessment (TA) intervention which consisted of evaluation, visual involvement, pain identification, behavior modification and understanding. The control group received assessment as usual (AAU) which included a risk assessment and standard psychological evaluation.
The level and type of self-harm varied among the participants. “Fifty-six (80%) participants were young women, 28 (40%) self-harmed by self-poisoning alone, 37 (53%) self-harmed by self-injury alone, and 5 (7%) self-harmed by both self-poisoning and self-injury. Forty-one (59%) had self-harmed previously,” said the researchers. The study revealed that just as the types of injuries varied, so did the participants’ responses to treatment and only the nonsuicidal participants showed any improvement as a result of intervention. “Adolescents with nonsuicidal and suicidal self-harm differ on several important clinical and sociodemographic characteristics and may respond to treatment differently.” The researchers added, “TA may be especially important in the nonsuicidal group. Clinicians should consider suicidal intent carefully during their initial assessment.”
Ougrin, D., Zundel, T., Kyriakopoulos, M., Banarsee, R., Stahl, D., & Taylor, E. (2011, August 22). Adolescents With Suicidal and Nonsuicidal Self-Harm: Clinical Characteristics and Response to Therapeutic Assessment. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025043
© 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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