At the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, we deal with a variety of adolescent and family presenting problems. One issue of increasing concern and risk is the phenomenon of “cutting” which is most prevalent with adolescent girls. It is a complicated issue involving individual and family dynamics.
“Cheryl” was a 15 year old female who was brought to therapy by her concerned parents when they learned that she had been “cutting”. This cutting behavior was in response to the client’s pain about a stressful family situation on top of developmental concerns such as school and peer relationships.
During therapy, Cheryl began to recognize that many of her feelings were normal for an adolescent and then began to identify healthier ways of expressing her feelings. She began to journal and verbally express her feelings in therapy. Eventually, she was able to express her feelings to her parents and to verbalize what she needed from them.
The therapist met with Cheryl’s parents to coach them on how to encourage the client to share her feelings with them and to interrupt patterns that contributed to the client’s fear of emotional expression. The client’s relationship with one parent was particularly strained, and the client and this parent identified several strategies for improved communication and respect in this relationship. This parent developed insight into how perfectionism, criticism, and quickness to anger prevented the client from seeking affection and nurturing from this parent.
The client was assisted in recognizing that cutting was a short-cut to dealing with feelings, simply numbing painful emotions, but that it was ultimately maladaptive, leaving her feeling guilty and ashamed. She had several opportunities to safely tell her family members how she was feeling, and they were able to respond appropriately. She also used these communication skills in her peer relationships. The client’s confidence improved significantly as she began to realize that she was entitled to her feelings and could express them in healthy ways. The client’s academic performance, assertiveness, and relationships have all improved and she has gone many months without a cutting incident.
This story is just one of the many adult, family, and adolescent problems that we successfully address each year. Overall, 9 in 10 former clients report that their presenting problem has improved after therapy.