Is family therapy enough to reduce self-harming tendencies in teenagers?

It comes as no surprise that suicide kills more people in the United States than road accidents. And more often than not, it’s the self-harming tendencies that serve as the strongest abettor of suicide. Among teenagers, it’s mostly peer pressure, competition, and expectations from parents, teachers, and society that lie at the heart of self-harming tendencies. The instances of nonsuicidal self-injury are more common among teenagers. Such tendencies can get more pronounced with time and lead to suicidal behavior; thus, it is necessary to have harm reduction counseling to avoid the looming perils.

As the term suggests, self-harm is the act of deliberately causing harm to one’s body. Teenagers and young adults at times inflict themselves with such injuries to deal with emotional upheavals, underlying stress, or some inner turmoil. Self-harming tendencies often become their mechanism to cope with the roadblocks and hurdles coming their way.

Studies often advocate family therapy, a branch of psychotherapy, to prevent and curb the rate of self-harming tendencies among teenagers. According to a randomized trial, Self-Harm Intervention: Family Therapy (SHIFT), there are a few advantages or benefits of family therapy that could be identified as compared to the usual treatment for adolescents exhibiting self-harming tendencies.

The SHIFT trial, which was one of the most comprehensive and expensive studies done in the field of adolescent self-harm, included six to eight monthly sessions of family therapy. The study found that it was in sharp contrast with the treatment dose prescribed in dialectical behavior therapy, which has shown greater efficacy than usual treatment in curbing self-harm in adolescents. Ideally, dialectal behavior therapy includes weekly individual sessions and 2 hours of weekly multifamily group treatment in addition to the availability of 24 hours daily phone coaching.

A study was conducted on self-harm involving 832 kids and adolescents aged between 11 and 17 years who had at least two prior episodes. During the study, the researchers analyzed tendencies such as living quality, depression, family functions, self-harm, emotive behaviors, health economics, and response to the therapy. They recorded a primary outcome of recurrence of self-harm that led to hospital during the 18 months following group assignment, and secondary outcomes included during the 12 months following group assignment.

It was concluded that monthly family therapy is not sufficient to help teenagers overcome their self-harming tendencies. Significant results can be achieved only through mentalization-based therapy and cognitive behavior therapy backed by a strong family component. However, such meetings should not be considered as a part of the formal systematic family therapy but as family engagement, because the latter is essential to help a teen recover from self-harming tendencies.

Self-harming tendencies can be reduced with medical intervention and treatment. According to experts, therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectal behavior therapy can significantly reduce the symptoms and help the teenager achieve complete recovery. However, the role of the family cannot be ignored during the process. The love, affection, care, and environment provided by the family surely help in catalyzing the recovery process.

If you know a teenager who is exhibiting self-harming tendencies, you can get in touch with a mental health facility and talk to their representative to know more about the treatment process at the facility.

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