I am a CYCW and I work in a teen girls home ages
16-19. One of them concerns me as she is a cutter. While other staff
consider her actions as attention seeking, I disagree. I believe she is
releasing emotions from her world that only she can control. I make myself
available to her (or anyone there as I am not a primary), either for a talk,
a walk or a drive.
On my own I have been able to get her some free trial kickboxing lessons (intended to work on control) and she may continue by setting up payment arrangements through the instructor. On the 6th day of cut-free behaviour I left a small paper note for her the next morning (as I am off for 2 days) which read "Congratulations on Day 7, Enjoy Kickboxing". My fellow staff did not feel that this was appropriate as it was rewarding her behaviour. I disagree. I am reinforcing a change on what I hoped would be another positive day. I do not know if they passed it on to her as it was to be discussed with the supervisor on the following in-coming night shift. This was not a gift, it was not signed by me, it was not an invitation of a present next time I saw her. They saw this as a reward, and I see it as kudos.
Some staff think she does this for attention, as another girl in the house never talks about her cutting. I think not all cutters are the same and what works for one will not work for another. Am I wrong? The other staff are trained professionals in other fields but who do not work as close as I do. I make it my priority to work on the floor.
I am questioning my views, and might look elsewhere for work.
My first comment it also good for you LA for having the
courage to listen to this young person's cry for help and to challenge the
thinking of the others. In Reclaiming Youth at Risk by Brendtro,
Van Bockern and Brokenleg here is what they say. "What was formerly called
"attention-seeking behavior" now appears to be better understood as
"attachment behavior," namely the persistent effort to reach out and
establish a secure relationship with others. Whereas adults were once
instructed to "ignore" attention seeking behavior with the goal of
extinguishing it, such advice must be qualified by emerging developmental
research. It seems that previous fears of spoiling children with dependence,
nurturance may not be justified. In fact a number of studies reveal that
absence of dependence support creates greater havoc in the child's
development. ... Children who oppress their caregivers with severe demands
for attention are often youngsters who have suffered from too little
Please keep reminding people that yes, they are seeking attention because they NEED it and it is our responsibility as effective counsellors to hear their plea and teach them to seek the attention in different ways. As for the cutting behavior, I hope your program will get someone in (as has been suggested) to gain understanding about this behavior as it is a release of emotion and feelings that they can't seem to do any other way. Stay with her LA and keep up the good work.
There is an aspect of this activity and other similar activities i.e., hair pulling, anorexia ... that function in its way to reduce anxiety, and the anticipation of feeling anxiety.
When you get to my age there is not much left but
anecdotes. However, the other day I was reflecting on the number of children
I must have worked with over the years who cut and in other ways hurt
I derived one or two insights from this. First, that the meanings of this behaviour were as various as the children. Second, that none of those children ever changed their behaviour because it was being addressed directly, as a behaviour to be changed. It was by being available to understand what it meant to that particular child that the option to change arose. With that came choice. Many took that most painful choice of losing the comfort that cutting gave them and starting the struggle to do things differently.
As someone who has worked in the field, as well as battling with self infliction (cutting) myself, I can assure you what you are doing is helping.
I experienced many different reactions to my struggle.
Friends and family would punish me or get me in trouble if they happened to
see a new injury. Others would ignore me or scoff as they too believed it
was a cry out. Counsellors tried to medicate me for my suicidal behavour.
After struggling for four years, going to therapy as well as taking my cyc
training I was able to do research into different opinions and medical
research. My findings were thus:
Self infliction (some include tattoo's into this category) inflicts pain which makes the body release endorphins as an initial response. It's a vicious cycle. Individuals hurts themselves to relieve some sort of tension or frustration that they don't know how to express properly. It helps, they do it again, and the cycle begins.
(Baxter mentioned kickboxing.) Kickboxing is a PERFECT idea, and encouraging her to relieve frustration, and problems outwardly is the best idea. Rewarding her non-destructive behavior is the way to solve the problem and anyone who disagrees should do more research!
I've been reading some replies to the recent discussion
Ya I totally agree, I've been in child and Youth Care for four years now and every individual is unique and different in every way. You can't put "cutters" all in the same box and gift wrap them as attention seekers. Some do it to feel better, others to numb their past hurts, some to grab attention - act all tough - but really on the inside they are only human and hurting big time and want help. Talking and getting them involved in a way of releasing some pain in a positive way like kick boxing, carving wood things, getting them a hobby or job they love that you help them support makes a huge difference in opening up a person to comfortably talking to you and telling you personal things from their life. It's that trust building and mentorship that they want, a real relationship, something or someone they know they can trust and be there for them in need. You're right, a lot of co-workers don't get this part of the counseling process of making rapport with them to get entrusted with secrets and time spent with an individual. Often being labelled a cutter is not an easy label and one is frowned upon for being a screwed up person, or a psycho, but they are individuals with a need and a hurt that needs mending. Continue the awesome job you're doing. It's thinking on your feet and being creative with relationships and doing activities with the teens that will help you find a connection between you and your client.