The reasons and emotional processes of people who self harm : an exploratory study

Coyne, Emma

Clinical psychology
July 2007

Thesis or dissertation

© 2007 Emma Coyne. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

People who harm themselves present a number of clinical challenges for staff in managing the risks associated with their behaviours, providing appropriate interventions and preventing repetition.

This research explored the reasons individuals have and the changes in emotions they experience, when they self-harm and attend hospital for treatment. It investigated the role of emotional regulation and experiential avoidance. The research included people who had self-poisoned or engaged in both self-poisoning and self-injury.

Study 1 involved ten out-patients from a Self-Harm Service who took part in a semi-structured interview. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, twelve themes emerged from the data which were grouped into four super-ordinate themes. These highlighted the difficulty participants had in experiencing and regulating their emotions and the use of self-harm as a strategy to avoid or regulate their emotions. They emphasised the important role of interpersonal, and not just, intrapersonal reasons for self-harm. The final super-ordinate theme explored the experience of becoming a self-harmer and the struggle with publicly acknowledging and accepting self-harm.

Study 2 collected questionnaire data from 60 participants who attended hospital following self-harm. The results suggested that following self-poisoning, participants experienced a decrease in their emotions (particularly negative motions e.g. anger at other people). Although positive emotions increased, shame also significantly increased. The results also suggested that people who had self-poisoned and self-injured, significantly differed from those who had only ever self-poisoned showing higher emotional dysregulation and experiential avoidance.

The clinical implications for assessing self-harm and developing interventions for emotional regulation difficulties are discussed.

Department of Clinical Psychology, The University of Hull
Glover, Lesley
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