Episode 95 - Dr. Janis Whitlock: The Cutting Edge: Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults

Monday, April 30, 2012, 9:29:35 AM

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In this episode, Dr. Janis Whitlock discusses the disturbing phenomenon of self-injurious behavior among adolescents and young adults. Dr. Whitlock discusses the causes, prevalence, and risk factors of self-injurious behavior and explains its active though maladaptive coping dimension as well as the challenge of finding effective treatment.

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Average Rating: 4.7 stars (12 listener reviews )

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Average Rating: 4stars  520 spring21 review, Monday, February 15, 2021

By Liss Eckborg :

While I found the data presented and discussed interesting and informative, I would have liked to hear from someone who suffered from SI. This is because it reminds me of an addiction, and I have heard addiction counselors do a better job when they themselves have suffered. I also was given ideas for future research and treatment for clients.

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Average Rating: 5stars  is self-injury contagious?, Saturday, February 13, 2021

By Wanda Carl :

I found this podcast to be very informative and thought provoking. I have noticed that there is an increased prevalence of self-harm compared to years ago. I can remember as a teen hearing about it here and there and now as a parent and social worker in training it is something I have seen being consistently used as a coping mechanism for many youth. I found it very interesting how she discussed the way that non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) has become more mainstream and almost appears to be spreading. NSSI used to be primarily limited to those who are clinically mentally ill, but is now being used as a coping mechanism for youth who do not have these serious diagnoses. The research on the contagion is especially fascinating and I have also wondered how and why the rates are increasing. She discusses the prevalence of NSSI in the media and online and on social media. The connection between the portrayals of self-harm online and in movies and the increased rates of youth using this as a coping mechanism is a very interesting area of research that bears further exploration. Many people who self-injure don’t recall how the idea initially came to them but may be influenced by older siblings, peers, media, or social media. This brings up questions about whether online discussions of self-harm are useful peer support or are triggering or planting ideas while a person is vulnerable. I also found it interesting that the rates of self-harm are significantly higher for those who identify as bisexual. There are also differences in how NSSI is approached by men and women. Men who self-injure are more likely to do so in groups by feats of masculinity such as holding a flame to their skin, by hitting objects or themselves, or initiating a fight. Women are more likely to cut or scratch and do their self-injury in private. DBT is commonly used with this difficult to treat group and use of mindfulness skills to work through the urges is another important facet of treatment.

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Average Rating: 5stars  self-injurious behavior in young people, Tuesday, February 09, 2021

By Emily Logsdon :

I thought this was an extremely informative podcast. I have learned so much about NSSI behavior from listening to Dr. Whitlock's talk. I was most impressed with her discovery that parents are protective factors for young people engaging in these behaviors. I am interested to learn more about how this works. I also think it's interesting that women identifying as bisexual are more likely to engage in these behaviors. I hope futrue research can give more information as to why this is so. I can't wait to learn more about Dr. Whitlock's research!

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Average Rating: 5stars  review, Tuesday, April 24, 2018

By Rachel Z :

I found this podcast to be very interesting mainly because I actually used to attend school with many people who used self-harm to cope with stress. Dr. Janis Whitlock talks about how self-injurous behavior is a way adults and young people cope with whatever is going on in their lives. Its really fascinating to learn that people hurt themselves when they are stressed. Its sad that they do not know what else to do so thats there first instinct- self harm. I also found it interesting that both kids and adults engage in this behavior. Growing up I only heard of teenagers doing this to themselves. I thought its a sort of thing people grow out of. Sadly, some people cannot control themselves and its very hard for them to stop. It was fascinating to hear the differences in how men and women use self-harm. Primarily women engage in cutting, while men usually engage in fighting or punching. My hope is for these children and adults who engage in this type of behavior to be able to have the resources and voice to find a different coping mechanism that will not end up putting their lives at risk.

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Average Rating: 5stars  gary ye podcast discussion, Monday, February 12, 2018

By Gary Y. :

This is a very interesting topic. I know quite a lot of people who harm themselves or who used to harm themselves. This podcast provided a lot of information regarding non-suicidal self injuring behavior. I haven't really though much about self harming behavior. It was a very big topic while I was in middle school in the early 2000s.

This podcast has given me a lot of insight regarding non-suicidal self injuring behavior.

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Average Rating: 4stars  ksparks review, Wednesday, December 02, 2015

By Katherine D. Sparks :

I really enjoyed how this podcast defines self injurious behavior and provided more factual information about it. I think it's very important to know that not of self-harm is meant to be suicidal. While Dr. Whitlock stated that we do not currently have any proven effective interventions to prevent or treat self-harm, identifying that a client's self-harm is a form of coping rather than suicide is a great place to be. In this situation, the worker is able to explore what the reasoning behind the self-harm is. If self-harm is being used as a coping mechanism, we can work with clients to find a substitution that works best for them. One of the clients at my field placement engages in self-harm to calm down and distract themselves from feeling sad. My field educator discussed with the client methods of mediation and mindfulness. The client was very intrigued by this and we are now using mindfulness exercises with the client to manage stress and prevent further self-harm. While all clients may not be this receptive, this is still a good example of the kind of advantage having a true understanding of self-harm brings. I also liked how Dr. Whitlock pointed out that self-harm is prevalent among all groups despite the view society has of it. Dr. Whitlock stated that self injurious behavior is mostly portrayed in the media as "very middle, upper class white girls." When I think about it I actually have not seen a portrayal of self-harm in movies, television, or books by a non-white character. I think this does a major disservice to other ethnicities because it increases the stigma and stereotype that minorities do not experience this behavior. I thought this was a very informative podcast and should be shared with many more students and practitioners.

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Average Rating: 5stars  self-injurious behavior, Monday, February 02, 2015

By Samantha Dupraw :

I found this podcast very interesting and respected it's ability to normalize self-injurious behavior as a mechanism to de-regulate. It brings up the effect of social media on self-injurious behavior and how it can be both therapeutic to express one's experiences and harmful. Even the potential effect of how self-injurious behavior is depicted in the media. It brings up the controversial influential impact of social media on people's actions. My experience has mostly involved self-injurious behavior when presented in children with autism. In these individuals, it appears that self-injurious behavior is used as a coping mechanism, or way to communicate (ex: head banging to express a headache). I was surprised by the fact that men's self-injurious behavior was more socially driven as compared with women.. The discussion of how individuals who commit self-injury may use it as a down-regulation method as a response to experiencing the world more intensely, makes me wonder if it is more prevalent among those with anxiety disorders? As research shows that these individuals experience heightened awareness and intensity. Overall, this post sparked my interest.

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Average Rating: 4stars  review of dr. whitlock's the cutting edge, Sunday, February 09, 2014

By Molly Heffernan :

On this podcast, Dr. Janis Whitlock discusses her knowledge of non-suicidal self-injurious (NSSI) behaviour. She describes how she became interested in the phenomenon, as she had not originally focused her studies on it.

Dr. Whitlock then talks about the high frequency with which front line professionals, including teachers and doctors, are seeing NSSI behaviours. For example, she mentions that one paediatrician friend reported that approximately 10% of her client population was engaging in the behaviour at that time. With her curiosity piqued, Dr. Whitlock decided to engage in her own literature search, review, and study into this behaviour that was increasingly becoming a trend.

On this podcast, Dr. Whitlock provides extensive information about NSSI in a professional, yet relatable way. The information shared can be used by clinicians, parents, peers, front-line professionals, and by individuals simply interested in the behaviour. She also touches on multiple topics to do with NSSI. She discusses the difference between non-suicidal self-injurious behaviour and suicidal behaviour, making clear that the former does not necessarily result in the latter. She further discusses some of the reasons that individuals self-injury, which include stress relief and coping, and makes specific mention of the fact that NSSI is not a suicide attempt.

Dr. Whitlock also discusses the potential contagion factors for NSSI, including the media and internet, in relation to the upward trend in NSSI. This is fascinating to hear about in this age of smart phones and social media websites like Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr.

Dr. Whitlock does admit that not too much is known about NSSI, specifically in terms of who engages in NSSI. While this is sad to hear given the obvious upward trend in the behaviour, Dr. Whitlock does end the podcast on a hopeful note, discussing potential interventions for NSSI like dialectical behaviour therapy.

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Average Rating: 5stars  understanding self-injurious behavior, Sunday, February 03, 2013

By Michele Spampinato :

Dr. Janis Whitlock discusses what is known about self-injurious behavior in adolescents and young adults, media influence, current interventions for self-injurious behaviors, and her current research to address the need for evidence based practice intervention. Dr. Whitlock describes self-injurious behavior as a self-harm coping mechanism without suicide intent for purposes not socially recognized or sanctioned. This behavior is believed to be on the rise and is not race or socioeconomic discriminant. However, there are higher prevalence rates among persons of certain sexual orientations and evidence of gender dependent method preference. Dr. Whitlock tells us in studying the evolution of media that there is a stark difference over the last half a century from the infrequent and difficult to discern self-injurious harm references of the 60’s to the more frequent and graphic references of the modern day which seem to suggest this as an option for stress relief. Interestingly, she provides physiologic explanation of the benefits felt through self-harm as calming and down regulating. Long-term effects of self-harm are maladaptive with potential for accidental death or suicidal intent. Gender differences in preferred methods and prevalence rates were found; females are more likely than men to self-harm and cut and men prefer to hit themselves causing bruising. The demographic characteristic that consistently mattered was being of bisexual orientation, specifically bisexual females. Her research has found parents to be a critical protective factor in determining whether the child moves on to suicide and notes her grant submission for a Web based intervention with parents of kids that self-injure. She reports Mindfulness as an intervention with some empirical evidence which allows for a separation from the emotion through activity meant to distract and allow the urge to injure pass. She also notes the strong link between sexual abuse and self-injurious behavior.

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Average Rating: 4stars  helpful information on self-injurious behavior, Saturday, February 02, 2013

By Isaac Jacobs :

I found this interview both insightful and informative. While I have been aware of the issue of non-suicidal self-injury and some of the facts surrounding it, I learned new information from Dr. Whitlock. It was very intriguing to hear that many youth and young adults engaging in this behavior are often influenced by media, internet, or others such as siblings or peers. It was also intriguing to hear that it is often done as a response or way of attempting to cope with stress and calm down. While I can understand the physiological reasons people engage in self-injury, I think I was probably previously under the impression that most who did this had more significant clinical mental health struggles. However, I am grateful for this information and Dr. Whitlock's dedication to researching this issue in order for practitioners and parents to more effectively address it with their clients and children. I encourage the UBSSW podcast team to continue seeking out researchers with information on relevant issues which we may encounter in the field.

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Average Rating: 5stars  identifying and treating self injuryq, Sunday, January 27, 2013

By Sarah :

I found Dr. Whitlock’s discussion on non-suicidal self-injury to be both informative and insightful. While Whitlock reported that only 10% of physicians’ patients exhibit self-injurious behavior, the prevalence of self-injury on the internet and in the media suggests that the rate of self-injury among adolescents and young adults may actually be underreported. Furthermore, as Whitlock pointed out, this expression of self-injurious behavior on the internet (i.e. through message boards and blog postings) may be responsible for increased prevalence of self-injury. Considering non-suicidal self injury as a form of active coping, Whitlock illustrates how exposure to self-injurious behavior can lead to self-injury among individuals seeking an outlet or coping method.

Among these individuals with self-injurious behavior, Whitlock also discussed common factors. For example, those who identify as bisexual are significantly more likely to practice non-suicidal self injury, particularly women. Moreover, women are reportedly more likely to cut, while men are more likely to self-injure through external forces (i.e. fighting, punching objects, etc.) I think it would be beneficial to consider why such factors impact the rate of self-injury in helping to address the behavior. Moreover, considering the individual focus Whitlock places on ending self-injurious behavior (that is, the need for the individual to truly want to stop) I think it would be beneficial to explore how intervention techniques such as solution focused or motivational interviewing might help to address self-injury. Lastly, given the association between self-injurious behavior and difficulty regulating emotions (as Whitlock mentioned), pharmacological treatment should be explored.

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Average Rating: 5stars  self-harm, a review, Friday, January 25, 2013

By Olivia :

Overall, this is an extremely educational and thought-provoking podcast. I found it very interesting how Dr. Whitlock’s research and focus transitioned from the prevalence of self-harm and who self-harms to how to provide intervention for self-harm. Ultimately, intervention and healing can only occur in individuals who truly want to stop the self-harmful behavior. However, in regards to clients who are not ready to stop their self-harm, I believe that it is still possible to help empower them to come to the decision of decreasing the self-harmful behavior with great patience and time. This distinction between those who want to stop and those who do not is also necessary to recognize as a worker for our own well-being and belief in our skills as workers in order to avoid burnout.

Dr. Whitlock touched on a very interesting and somewhat controversial statement, which was that, the desire to cope through self-harm without suicidal intent is healthy. However, it is the method of coping that is not adaptive in the long run. I believe that this was a very important component of self-harm to recognize, which can be used in solution-focused therapy with a client who is self-harming.

Finally, I appreciated Dr. Whitlock’s discussion of the media and it’s influence and use among those who self-harm or are thinking about beginning self-harmful behavior. She highlighted the trauma that can occur within media outlets, such as Internet sites, which can have triggering effects. She also discussed the prevalence of those who are ‘lurking’ on the site, individuals who weren’t harming but are curious about it and still interacting on these sites. Overall, as workers who are working with clients who self-harm, whether it is as a coping device or with suicidal intentions, it is important to be up to date on the different media components and interactions an individual is experiencing in order to provide the best intervention possible.

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DISCLAIMER: The content shared by the presenter(s) and/or interviewer(s) of each podcast is their own and not necessarily representative of any views, research, or practice from the UB School of Social Work or the inSocialWork® podcast series.