Self-Injurious Behaviors: Supporting empathy, understanding, and effective treatment through creative activities

Over the last 20 years, I witnessed the acts and aftereffects of children, adolescents, and adults who mutilate their bodies to express overwhelming emotions. I have often wondered what hurt could cause such destruction and isolation of the self. At a time when these individuals need to be most connected, they perpetuate disconnection through self-injury, which others often perceive as horrific. I have also witnessed how mental health providers and families respond to self-injury with shame, disappointment, horror, and helplessness. The act of shedding blood creates an immediate sense of connection to the inner body because blood is considered the essence of life. Self-injury typically begins in early adolescence but can become more frequent over time. Documented self-injury occurrences have significantly increased in recent years
All service providers are equally at high risk due to their own feelings of PTSD, depression, hopelessness, compassion fatigue and burn out. This workshop is an inspiring exploration of the impact that self-injury has on individuals, their families, and service providers. Through activities and discussion this workshop aims to raise support for ourselves as well as the individuals and families we serve at a time when they often feel the least connection to others. Weaving between the literature, stories from experience, and experiential exercises, the goal is to facilitate empathy and understanding to provide those who are suffering improved treatment. A secondary aim is to support the service providers to create strong plans for their own wellness while working with such an impactful issue. This workshop is appropriate for all staff as the activities can be altered to meet the practitioner’s scope of practice.


Dana Wyss Ph.D., LMFT, ATR-BC

Director of Training , Star View Adolescent Center