My friend is struggling with self-harm

In this podcast episode, I want to address the sensitive and challenging topic of self-harm, both for those who may have friends struggling with it and for individuals dealing with self-harming behaviors themselves. As a therapist with 20 years of experience, I've encountered many individuals who find themselves trapped in this harmful pattern. They often acknowledge that it's not a healthy solution, yet it provides temporary relief. The brain is a pattern-making machine, and just as we can make self-harming patterns, we can also unmake them and create healthier ones.


Self-harm often serves as a way to manage overwhelming emotions such as sadness, anxiety, shame, and pain. However, it's crucial to understand that these emotions have meaning and purpose in our lives. They signal that something needs attention or change, similar to a blinking dashboard light in a car. We shouldn't try to numb or run from these emotions; instead, we must face them, seek help, and learn how to manage them constructively. For those with friends struggling with self-harm, being a supportive friend is essential. Here are some tips:

Listen Non-Judgmentally: Offer a compassionate and non-judgmental space for your friend to open up about their struggles. Express Care: Show your genuine concern for their well-being without being critical.

Encourage Professional Help: Suggest that they talk to a trusted adult, counselor, or therapist who can provide the guidance and support they need.

Offer Resources: Recommend resources like SchoolPulse or the 988 Hotline, and encourage them to connect with available resources at school or in the community.

Prioritize Safety: If their self-harming poses an immediate threat, consider involving a counselor, parent, or trusted adult to ensure their safety.

Stay Connected: Be a supportive friend, but remember that you can't control their choices. Avoid ultimatums and threats, and instead offer kindness and encouragement.

For those who are personally struggling with self-harm, here are some strategies to consider:

Talk to Someone: Reach out to a trusted person, such as parents, a counselor, a friend, or a therapist, who can provide support and guidance.

Identify Triggers: Pay attention to the situations or emotions that trigger self-harming thoughts and feelings. Seek help to brainstorm healthier solutions.

Learn Coping Strategies: Explore and practice healthy coping mechanisms through resources like podcasts, books, or therapy to manage emotions and challenges effectively.

Create a Safety Plan: Develop a simple plan, preferably with the help of professionals or parents, to redirect self-harming urges. Plan specific actions to take when those urges arise.

Limit Access: Make it harder to access the tools or objects used for self-harm, as it can deter the behavior.

Be Kind to Yourself: Embrace progress and self-encouragement rather than self-criticism. Understand that change takes time and effort.

Ultimately, self-harm is a complex issue, and addressing it requires patience, understanding, and professional support. These strategies can help individuals move towards healthier patterns and behaviors, but it's essential to seek guidance from mental health professionals for a more comprehensive and personalized approach.

I hope these insights and tips can provide valuable guidance for both friends and individuals dealing with self-harming behaviors. Remember, change is possible, and with the right support and effort, better and healthier outcomes are attainable.