4 Professionals

What is it?

Self-harm is when someone hurts themselves on purpose (not associated with some of the habitual behaviour associated with developmental conditions such as autism). In most cases, there is no suicidal intention but a teenager’s safety must always be kept in mind. Risk assessment is one of the key tasks for a professional.

Self-harm in not a new phenomenon, but it appears to be growing in frequency. Whilst both teenagers and adults, male and female, self-harm, cutting is most prevalent in teenage girls. However, boys who self-harm tend to cause more damage to themselves and suicide is more common in boys and men.

Self-harm is a serious problem for teenagers with around 1 in 12 children aged between 10 and 16 carrying out a variety of self-harm behaviours.

The self-harm management techniques that are described, are separate to those that are recommended for autism, or for children with neurological damage or special needs, where the intention of the self-harm and therefore the management, has a different focus.


Self-Harm is usually identified by regular marks that are noted in a variety of parts of the body. These can include cuts, burns, scratches for example.

Why Change

The first part of a professionals job is to increase motivation to change. Its really important to manage self-harm early because it can become habitual and increase in intensity. A good starting point is to explore what benefits the person sees in self-harming and to ascertain negative reasons for why it would be helpful to make positive change. Once motivation to change is established, CYP can be referred to the ‘Why Change?’ part of the stem4 website and to our ‘Calm Harm’ app whilst they wait specialist treatment.

To build up your assessment skills and to learn about prevention and evidence based treatments ask to be on our ‘mailing list’ for our professionals conferences.

Some benefits to self-harm
  • “It helps me calm”
”It lets others know that everything is not alright”
  • “It takes my mind off upsetting things”
Some negatives to self-harm
  • “It makes me feel alone”
  • “Others think I’m weird”
  • “I hate the marks it leaves on my skin”
  • “I can’t wear revealing clothes”
  • “It doesn’t help me sort out my real problem”
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  • Self-Harm Minimsation
  • Educate on sterilising equipment, how to prevent infection, using ‘safe implements, teach basic first aid


  • Encourage the Child or Young Person to take positive action to break the circle of self-harm. To do this,



    • Try and help them think about what their self-harm is expressing.
    • If it’s COMFORTING suggest they do alternative comforting actions instead – for example, have a bath, cuddle someone or something, do something relaxing, listen to some music.

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    • If it RELEASES FEELINGS, recommend some other outlets of feeling release instead – for example, talk to someone, exercise, write down how you feel, draw your emotion.

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  • If it RELEASES TENSION, suggest another way to release tension instead – for example listen to some very loud music, rip some paper, ‘ping’ a rubber band on your wrist. PRACTICE for at least 5 minutes.
  • DISTRACT from the temptation to self-harm. Do something – go for a walk, give yourself something difficult to do. Sit it out – the urge will pass.



  • Why not download our calm harm app?
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    • This clinician developed smart phone app can be downloaded free from the app store or google play. Its private and has a range of tasks you can do to help manage the urge to self-harm. You can also add your own self-soothing strategies to help personalise it.
  • Encourage maintaining the strategy that works over the long term. Keep regular contact to monitor.

Try it. Give yourself a seven day period to put into action. If you have success, try another seven days. Build up to 30 days.



Harmless is a user led organisation that provides a range of services about self-harm including support, information, training and consultancy to people who self-harm, their friends and families and professionals.


Support individuals who self-harm to reduce emotional distress and improve their quality of life.

Young Minds

YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.


Mind provide advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

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