Family therapy not enough to reduce self-harming tendencies in teens

Family therapy not enough to reduce self-harming tendencies in teens

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, expectations from parents, teachers and the society that lie at the heart of self-harming tendencies. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), instances of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) are more common among teenagers. Such tendencies can get more pronounced with time and lead to suicidal behavior.

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 have often advocated family therapy, a branch of psychotherapy to prevent and curb the rate of the self-harming tendencies among the teens. However, a recent research has contended the findings so far.  According to a randomized trial – Self-Harm Intervention: Family Therapy (SHIFT) trial – no advantages or benefits of family therapy could be identified as compared to the usual treatment for adolescents exhibiting self-harming tendencies.

Closer look into family therapy

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, 2 hours weekly multifamily group treatment in addition to the availability of 24 hours daily phone coaching.

The study saw the participation of 832 children and adolescents aged between 11 and 17 years. The children had been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for self-harm following at least two prior episodes. During the study, the researchers analyzed tendencies such as ideation, quality of life, depression, mental health, family functioning, self-harm, emotional traits, health economics, and engagement with therapy.

The study recorded a primary outcome of repetition of self-harm leading to hospital attendance during the 18 months following group assignment. Meanwhile, secondary outcomes included repetition of self-harm leading to hospital attendance during the 12 months following group assignment, cost per self-harm event averted by family therapy, characteristics of self-harm episodes.

It was concluded that the 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 the self-harming tendencies.

Road to recovery

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.

Therefore, if you know a teenager who is exhibiting self-harming tendencies, you can get in touch with Colorado Mental Health Help. Call at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 899-5063 or chat online with our representative to know more about mental health treatment centers in your vicinity. We can help you connect with the mental health treatment centers in Colorado and beyond.