How I spoke about self-harm with my therapist

Written by Rebecca O'Brien

Last Updated: Dec-08-23


TW // This piece discusses self-harm. Please look after yourself if you choose to read on. Our text support service details are listed below.

If you are under 16, your doctor must inform your parent or guardian about your visit except in very rare cases. Even if you are over the age of 16, the doctor cannot give you a guarantee of confidentiality as your parent or guardian has a right to ask for access to your medical records until you are 18. But if your doctor thinks that it would better for you if your parent did not know about your visit, they may decide to keep the information from them.

Sure, when we are over 18 and we are a danger to ourselves or to others, a therapist is obliged to tell someone, but aside from that, what is said during therapy, stays in therapy. 

This is a barrier that I feel a lot of young people face when seeking help for self-harm. In some cases, this is because the reason why someone is self-harming is related to issues at home. The fear that this might only make things worse, makes it difficult to open up. 

In my case, I was afraid that my parents would be angry at me. I also had no idea how to explain it to them, because I didn’t really know why myself. This is another factor that kept me from opening up; I believed that if I couldn’t identify a reason, there was no point in addressing it at all.

Stigma surrounding self-harm

On top of this, was the amount of stigma at the time, which was, believe it or not, much worse than the stigma surrounding self-harm today. This is mostly because there was so little information available about mental health and self-harm, compared to what there is now, and it just wasn’t talked about enough. 

The only friend I could talk to about self-harm was because they had been self-harming as well. However, they didn’t provide much support, in fact, they did the opposite. They would accuse me of trying to copy them and would compare the physical severity of our self-harm to belittle me. 

Self-harm support from my therapist 

Despite the initial hesitation to open up, I became comfortable enough, after a few sessions, to tell my therapist that I was self-harming. It was also sort of impossible to be in therapy without mentioning quite a significant part of the reason for needing to be there. 

To my surprise, she didn’t dismiss me or rush straight to the phone, like I expected her to. Instead, she listened, and she understood why I was so afraid to talk about it. She also gave me the opportunity to tell my parents about it myself, and after, she explained self-harm to them so that they could process it. 

Fortunately, there is now so much more awareness regarding mental health and self-harm. I see young people with knowledge that I wish I had known, with the potential to make a person’s journey a little bit easier and a little less lonely.

Now, I’m not saying that there is no longer any stigma surrounding self-harm, but from the perspective of someone who experienced it when young, progress has been and is continuing to be made.  

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