What is self-harm?

Self-harm is any behaviour carried out as a way to intentionally hurt yourself. Self-harm is more than just a physical act. It’s often used as a way to manage overwhelming emotional distress.


Some people use self-harm as a form of self-punishment or in an attempt to stop feelings of dissociation and numbness. Others may use it as a way to make emotional pain visible. Very often, it’s a combination of all of these factors that leads a person to self-harm.

What are the different types of self-harm?

  • Cutting or severely scratching your skin
  • Burning or scalding yourself
  • Hitting yourself or banging your head
  • Punching things or throwing your body against walls or hard objects
  • Sticking objects into your skin
  • Intentionally preventing wounds from healing
  • Taking overdoses with tablets or toxic chemicals

While self-harm may provide some temporary relief in the moment, it can lead to serious injury. If you’re currently engaging in self-harming behaviours, it’s important that you reach out to your GP or a therapist.

consultation taking notes

Treatment for self-harm

Self-harm often has its roots in trauma and for this reason, talking therapy is the most effective treatment. In therapy, you will learn healthier copy strategies for managing difficult emotions so that self-harm no longer feels like the only option.


One of the most effective treatments for self-harm is dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). DBT aims to understand the sequence of events and triggers that can lead to an episode of self-harm. It is a non-judgmental therapy that works to increase your understanding around why you resort to this behaviour. DBT will teach you a range of emotional management strategies and it can be delivered either as individual therapy, in a group or as a combination of the two.

Frequently asked questions

If you have started to engage in self-harm in order to deal with difficult emotions, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. People can put themselves at high levels of risk in order to manage their emotions and self-harm can have serious consequences. Please consult your GP or seek the support of a psychologist or psychiatrist as soon as possible.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Schema Therapy are the most effective treatments for self-harm.

Yes, you should definitely still seek help. The fact that you are engaging in self-harm indicates that you are experiencing high levels of stress and you don’t have the sufficient coping mechanisms in place to deal with these emotions. It’s important to intervene as soon as possible before self-harm becomes more of a long-term pattern.

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Dr Stacie Tay

Dr Stacie Tay attained her BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Nottingham and worked as a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, before returning to the UK to complete her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University College London.   

Dr Tay has worked in a variety of settings within the NHS for more than eight years, including primary and secondary care, specialist psychological services and forensic inpatient settings. She currently works as a Clinical Psychologist at the North East London Foundation Trust.  

She has extensive experience working with individuals and groups, providing evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness-based approaches as well as Schema-informed therapy.   

Dr Tay’s clinical experience involves working with people who present with a range of mild to severe mental health difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety (OCD, social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, health anxiety, phobia-related disorders, PTSD), stress related issues, low self-esteem, complex trauma, interpersonal difficulties, grief and bereavement, and long-term health conditions.