Self Harm Treatment For Teens

Residential Treatment for Teens Who Struggle with Self Harm

In recent years, suicide has become one of the leading causes of death among teenagers. It is common for people to say that there were no warning signs and that no one around them knew they were struggling. While the timing may seem impulsive, it is more likely that they were experiencing suicidal thoughts or engaging in self harm for an extended period of time but tried to hide it from others.

As a residential treatment center, Elevations works with teens who have struggled with self harm to establish a safety plan and work through core issues and beliefs that have led to their self-destructive behavior. Our goal is to empower teens to discover what they value in life, in relationships, and about themselves.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

What is Self Harm?

Self harm refers to any form of self-destructive behavior that involves hurting oneself on purpose.  It is often used as means of coping with anxiety or other negative feelings and to relieve stress or pressure.

About one in six teenagers have self-harmed at least once. By adulthood, only about one in twenty have continued to self-harm, usually on a less frequent basis. Preventing self-harm in teens identifies the problem earlier and gives them skills necessary to develop a more positive self-image and healthier coping strategies.

Signs Your Teen May Be Engaging in Self Harm

Parents and other adults who work with teens should learn the red flags related to self-harm symptoms. Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate that your teen is self-harming:

  • Marks on their skin that may have come from cutting or burning
  • Hidden objects in their room that they may use to cut or burn themselves such as knives, razors, lighters, or box cutters.
  • Locking theirself away for hours on end after coming home from an upsetting day at school.
  • Someone else (such as another adult, sibling, or friend of your child) reports seeing cuts or burns on your teen’s body.
  • Your teen covers themselves up with long sleeves and pants even in hot weather.
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Other Self Harm Types

Cutting with a knife, razor blade, or other sharp object is the most common method of self-harm, but self-harm refers to a wide range of self-destructive behaviors. There are many other methods that may be less noticeable, including one or more of the following:

  • Scratching skin or picking at scabs
  • Hitting or punching themselves or walls
  • Pulling out hair
  • Burning skin
  • Disordered eating
  • Drinking or doing drugs to excess
  • Driving recklessly

Do Teens Who Self Harm Struggle with Suicidal Thoughts?

Most teens who have self-harmed in the past claim that they don’t self-harm with the aim to commit suicide. Self-harm may be related to feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that accompany suicidal ideation, but they are not mutually exclusive. For some teens, self-harming is a way to cope with overwhelming feelings of suicidal ideation instead of following through with a plan. While self-harm is not the same as a suicide attempt, as a risk factor for later suicidal ideation, it can be life-threatening–whether it is accidental or intentional. For this reason, it is important to take signs of self-harm seriously.

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How Does Elevations RTC Help Students Who Have Struggled with Self-Harming Behaviors?

At Elevations RTC, we try to focus more on the distress leading up to the decision to self-harm rather than the behavior itself. For many teens, self harm is just one piece of a larger puzzle of anxiety, depression, and low self esteem.

Our treatment approach for teens who struggle with self-harm looks like:

  • Safety assessments upon intake. We talk to every student about their history of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and hospitalizations in order to come up with a safety plan for if these urges reoccur. This information can also help us determine what level of support they may need while at the program. 
  • Monitoring triggers for self-harm. We use motivational interviewing techniques to help teens understand why they use self-harm as a coping mechanism and what situational triggers bring up the urge to self-harm.
  • 24-hour Supervision. Our staff are available around-the-clock to check in with students who are struggling and to ensure their safety.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Skills, like distress tolerance. Our clinical model is based on the core modules of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Between individual and group therapy, students learn healthier coping mechanisms that they can use to manage self-harm urges. Examples of distress tolerance skills include self-soothing, making a pros and cons list, and practicing radical acceptance.
  • Resources for stabilization. We understand that there is a difference between having suicidal thoughts and engaging in self-harm. Our staff are trained in crisis intervention techniques to ensure that your teen receives an appropriate level of care.

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