How DBT Uses Behavior Analysis to Address Self-Harm

By Jeanette Lorandini

The problem with self-harm is that it is both scary and satisfying at the same time.

It’s frightening because of the injury it causes to your body. However, at the moment when you feel stressed, anxious, or are otherwise flooded with emotion, it’s the only thing that helps.

That’s why self-harm can be so difficult to address and resolve.

Yet, there are techniques available that help you cope with, and move away from, self-harm behaviors. These include dialectical behavioral therapy within the framework of behavioral analysis.

Here’s how behavioral analysis works, and how it can help you.

What is Behavioral Analysis?

A roadblock that occurs with self-harm behaviors is that, to those who don’t understand it, seems inconceivable. After all, how does hurting oneself actually make you feel better?

This is where behavioral analysis comes in. It is a process that helps you and your therapist better understand why this happens. When you both know the why for this behavior, then you can begin the process for resolving those issues. To do so, behavioral analysis requires a four-step process.

Describing What Happens

The first step in the behavioral analysis process involves describing what happens when you self-harm. These include:

  • The event that’s usually connected to the behavior. For instance, if you get triggered in a particular way, what does that look like?
  • When the behavior occurs. Is it during the day, at night, or in certain situations?
  • Where do you self-harm? Does it happen at home or somewhere else?

Knowing these details is an important first step towards understanding and addressing your self-harm behavior.

Breaking Down the Process

The next step in behavioral analysis involves breaking down the process for your self-harm. The actual method used is called ABCEF and includes:

  • Actions
  • Body sensations
  • Thoughts, also called cognitions.
  • Events that are occurring around you.
  • Feelings

Instead of going down the list, you describe these things as they are occurring when you self-harm. This creates an enriched timeline of what is happening in those moments.

The Results of Your Self-Harm

Step three requires that you reflect on what were the results right after you self-harmed. For example, did you feel relieved afterward? Or a sense of calm? The aim here is that by knowing what resulted from the self-harming behavior, both you and your therapist can better understand why it’s such a powerful coping mechanism for you.

Identifying Opportunities

The last step for behavioral analysis requires some self-reflection on your part. Once you have described the behavior, broken down the process of what your self-harm looks like, and the results, you now identify what could be different.

You identify opportunities when and where you could use different coping skills to soothe whatever emotions you experience. For example, let’s say that you really struggle when someone gets angry at you. What options are there that you could soothe your emotions rather than self-harm?

Learning New Skills

Once you have completed the behavioral analysis, you and your therapist can get to work building your toolbox of coping skills. It’s an important part of DBT therapy by substituting the self-harming behavior so that you can stay in the right headspace without needing to self-harm.

Or, if you feel those emotions coming up, using a different alternative. Some examples include:

  • Mindfulness activities, such as meditation, gardening, or walking.
  • Reminders of how you have gotten through stressful times successfully.
  • Using healthy distraction.

Self-harm is a drastic way to get your needs met. Those needs include feeling calm, present, and even being in control. However, it’s not healthy for you either physically or mentally. Behavioral analysis can break down why this occurs so that you, while working with a therapist, can find better ways to cope. To learn more, reach out today about how dialectical behavioral therapy will work for you.

Click here for more information on self-harm counseling.

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