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Cutting & Self Mutilation

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Self-Injury » Featured Article

By: Joan E. Shapiro, LCSW, BCD

Joan E. Shapiro, LCSW, BCD


What is it?

What does it mean?

Where is the help?

What is it?

Cutting refers to an odd behavior characterized by self mutilation by razor blade, knife, stapler, or some similarly sharp object. The wounds are usually not life threatening, and can be, for example, fine shallow cuts where blood is produced and physical pain is felt. Cutting is usually practiced alone and secretly. Depending on the patient, the cuts are either left to heal, or may be renewed. Cutters, usually young females, will attempt to hide the practice by wearing clothing over the cuts.

What does it mean?

Often people who learn that a person is cutting themselves will jump to the conclusion that the person is trying to kill themselves by causing themselves to bleed to death. They confuse it with the “slitting of the wrists” in a suicide attempt. Although the cuts could be on the wrists, these people are typically not trying to end their lives. They are however, desperately trying to cope with unbearable emotional pain in this odd way.

Where is the help?

Out- patient psychotherapy is the solution in most cases for the patients who cut themselves. Only when the patient is uncontrollably cutting, (or engaging in other more severe behaviors such as burning themselves with cigarettes, allowing wounds to become infected, banging their heads or otherwise exhibiting behaviors that are self destructive) is hospitalization merited. Specialized treatments or treatment programs which reference skills training, give the patient not only therapy to untangle and cope with their emotional pain, but acceptable alternatives to  the behavior of self mutilation.

About the Author...

Joan E. Shapiro LCSW, BCD is a Lecturer in Social Work for the North Shore University Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry and is in full time private practice in Roslyn, NY and Huntington, NY. She earned her MSW from Smith College School for Social Work and attended the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. She has trained at N.Y. Hospital- Westchester Division, Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, and The Clifford Beers Guidance Clinic. She was a clinical social worker for the North Shore Hospital Dept. of Psychiatry for twenty five years. She can be reached at (631) 271-4037.

Click here to contact or learn more about Joan E. Shapiro

Last Update: 4/9/2009

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