One of our previous guests and my good friend, Olivia Quintanilla of Addiction Campuses, referred Lori Vann to Mental Health News Radio. Lori is a pro interviewee having been an invited guest on multiple radio and television shows. She specializes in many areas of behavioral health with a large focus on Self-Injury. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart so I am honored to dive in with a field expert.
Please join Lori and I for an eye-opening discussion on this misunderstood behavior that not only affects our younger generation but is carried out, if not treated early, well into adulthood.
Some of the questions we cover on the show:
What is self-injury, isn’t it just cutting?
While cutting might be the most common form of self-injury, there are actually many different forms and levels of it, including burning, hitting, and skin picking to the extreme of breaking bones.
Isn’t this just a rebellious teen girl issue or something that Goth or Emo kids do?
No, self-injury spans generations, genders, personality types, and cultures; it is an international issue, too. I offer a support group for women for a reason. Depending on the research study, one can see that males self-injure at rates probably ranging from 10% up to 45%.
When should a caregiver start to look for the possible signs of self-harm?
While there is not one single warning sign to tip parents off, there are several possible signs that must be evaluated as part of the big picture.
Emotional signs: sad, depressed, anxious, irritable, insecure (low self-esteem or confidence level)
Behavioral: withdrawn, ‘jumpy’ when you enter the room (as if they are trying to hide something), dressing differently (long sleeves, tall socks, no longer wearing a bikini)
Observational: missing knives or sharps, First Aid items in the trash, spending more time in the bedroom with the door closed or in the bathroom & they aren’t primping
Review their social media or Internet searches.
If a caregiver suspects that their child might be harming, what should they do next?
Become educated by reading a book or meeting with a professional who has in depth knowledge & experience working with self-harm to process feelings about it and how to respond.
Caregivers should look for the appropriate time and place to try to address the concern; right before bedtime, if the student is studying for a test, has a friend over visiting, or when extended family are present are not good times to have this discussion, as the child/teen is likely to either shut down, get angry, become embarrassed or resentful, go into a panic attack, or break into a crying spell.
What are some of the mistakes that well-meaning parents make when reacting to the news that their child might be harming?
In A Caregiver’s Guide to Self-injury, I list 17 Do’s and Don’ts, but the top tips would be:
A) Don’t accuse them of doing it for attention (even if they are, there are better ways to address the issue)
B) Don’t get angry, sad, or take it personally
C) Don’t tell them to just ‘stop it’ or ‘don’t do it’ or try to bribe them
Won’t the person just “grow out of it”?
It is possible that as the teen matures that they may have worked through the issues that contributed to the injury or that they learned other healthier coping skills. However, it is also possible that those issues do not get resolved, that they do not learn other healthier coping skills and either continue harming or move to other unsafe escapes, such as eating disorders or substance use. I have had cases where the women in my support group had been participating in the injury since late childhood.
Is self-injury more common now versus previous generations or it is we are just better able to recognize it?
This is a mixed answer because while, yes, I do believe the actual number of cases have increased over the last twenty years, at the same time, I think that we are also assessing and talking about it more than in previous generations.
Can we just blame the media for this increase in harm?
No, the media is not solely responsible for the spread of self-injury. However, they are a contributing factor as there are numerous movies, TV shows, and song lyrics that “normalize’ or even encourage this behavior as a way to cope. Social Media and the Internet are factors, but often times, the person has already come into contact with someone who harms, they heard some reference to it, or they stumbled upon it by accident and the thought was planted at that time. As they ponder that thought, then they may look to the Internet to get more information about it.
If they cut on their wrists, that must mean that they are suicidal, correct?
Interestingly enough, self-injury often serves as a preventative to a suicide attempt, in that if they did not harm as a way to release or cope with whatever emotions they are dealing with, then they may feel hopeless enough to attempt suicide Injury sometimes serves to regulate their emotions. They may cut on their wrist because it is an easy body part to get to and they can cover it up with a chunky watch, long sleeve shirt, or lots of bracelets or wrist bands.
What are some of the reasons why someone would intentionally choose to harm themselves?
Over the last 15+ years, I have collected over 35 reasons why someone harms. Each episode of injury may be for a different reason. Some of the top reasons would be: it is an emotional release, that the physical pain is easier to deal with than the emotional pain; it is a way to relieve guilt or punish themselves; they are sad or depressed; or they are stressed/overwhelmed/anxious.
Lori Vann is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor who has practiced in a variety of settings from inpatient psychiatric hospitals to outpatient clinics, private practice, and the non-profit sector. She has been a professor of psychology for both the Collin County and Dallas County college districts. Ms. Vann has presented on a wide range of topics at numerous locations throughout Dallas-Ft. Worth, California, Hawaii, and Texas including national conferences, colleges, community events, symposiums, non-profit organizations, and churches.
Over the years, she has also written several educational handouts for her clients and colleagues. You can currently find her supervising LPC interns, speaking throughout Texas, giving consultations to counselors and the media, while working full-time in her private practice in North Carrollton. Ms. Vann is the author of three books, A Caregiver’s Guide to Self-injury (2014), A Practitioner’s Guide to the Treatment of Self-injury: tips, techniques, activities, and debates (2015), and The Self-injury Prevention Activity Workbook (only available at seminars). She has been nicknamed the “Teen Whisperer” and the “Guru of Self-injury” by professional peers and runs the only known exclusively self-injury support groups for tween girls, teen girls, women, and the caregivers of those who self-harm in all of North Texas. To date she has worked with 400 individuals who have some history of self-injury and has presented on the topic over 60 times.
Ms. Vann started consulting for the media on mental health issues in 2009 and has been featured on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CW33 news broadcasts throughout the country. A favorite radio guest, she has been named a parenting and relationship expert for Fox News Radio and Clear Channel Stations, and as of August 2015, she has given 165 radio interviews from coast to coast. Other media projects that she has assisted with include movie script, PSA, and TV show consultant, and expert panelist. Regarding print media, Ms. Vann has been written about in several local and national newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News and The Denver Post, and in multiple magazines including Dallas Child/N. Texas Child/Ft. Worth Child, Chattanooga Parenting, Houston Family Magazine, Health To You for Hospital Corporation of America, and interviewed for GL (Girls Life) magazine. She has also been contacted on several occasions by HollywoodLife.com for comments regarding celebrities and self-injury.
She is a graduate of Pepperdine University where she received with honors her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and is a graduate of Chapman University where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Master of Arts degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling. She has been a LPC since 2001, a LPC Supervisor since 2003, and a professional speaker since 2000.
How to contact Lori: