Self-Harm And Recovery


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Exploring the Evidence

By Bruce Wallace

ISBN: 978-1-78382-163-1
Published: 2015
Pages: 140
Key Themes: Mental Health, Mental Illness, Self-Harm, Self-Injury Recovery

About the Author

Bruce Wallace was born in 1951 and became involved in the area of mental health firstly through qualifying as a mental health nurse (in the late 1960’s) and later teaching both students preparing for work in mental health and those already qualified but developing their knowledge and skills further.

He has a specific interest in the area of self-harm/injury through both the fact that he facilitates a specific unit dedicated to the subjects of self-harm and suicide and has known and worked with individuals who have self-harmed/injured.

He has attempted to balance the views of the ‘profession’ with those who have come into contact with that profession to enable a greater understanding to emerge and hopefully a better experience for those individuals looking for support and help. He has previously published a book exploring issues related to self-harm/injury.

Book Extract

“It seems like a lot of people wonder when exactly you’re recovered. 6 months clean? A year? More? Less? I really think it’s up to the individual. When you can say with complete confidence that you are never, ever going back there, and you’re taking every possible measure to ensure that you don’t, then that’s recovery. I was clean for almost a year, and a lot of people might consider themselves to be recovered after that time, but I knew in my heart I wasn’t finished. I wasn’t ready to give it up. It’s certainly a difficult journey, but it’s attainable, if you truly want it and put every effort into it. Never give up. Something will work for you. If you haven’t found it yet, keep searching. Something will help. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth the fight.”

About this piece of work

This chapter is the result of a small piece of consultation work by CAPS Advocacy based in the Lothian region of Scotland. Much of our work focuses on collecting and acting on the views of people with personal experience of mental health issues and treatment. We aim to be pro-active in supporting people to raise issues with services and campaign for changes and improvements in services rather than solely responding to consultation requests from services. In our collective advocacy service we look to represent the range of views on any given topic, rather than one person speaking for a heterogeneous group.

We also work closely with a range of people who use self-harm, partly due to specific advocacy projects and partly due to strong links with other services and community groups. When we heard about this book proposal we felt it was a good opportunity to gather a wide variety of views to be presented in a collective first person format to contrast with personal views and experiences and anonymised research.

To collate the information in this chapter we simply asked:
What would you like to say about self-harm and recovery?

A note from the author

In writing this chapter I wanted to express very passionately the variety of views people have on self-harm and recovery and in particular their relation to one another. I could write screeds on this topic, as I feel very strongly that there is no specific way to define recovery in relation to self -harm. To try undermines both the concept of recovery, as I understand it, and all of my learning about the individual nature of the use of self -harm. I feel equally passionately about representing a range of views, not just the ones which are loudest, and the result is this chapter which I hope is informative and challenging in equal measures. I have used people’s own words as much as possible as I feel nothing can capture their experience better than this. It has been an illuminating and humbling piece of work for me and I can only hope that readers will appreciate people giving freely of their very personal experiences in order to educate others.

Definitions of Recovery?

The Scottish Recovery Network defines recovery as:
“Recovery is being able to live a meaningful and satisfying life, as defined by each person, in the presence or absence of symptoms. It is about having control over and input into your own life. Each individual’s recovery, like his or her experience of the mental health problems or illness, is a unique and deeply personal process.”

However they also acknowledge that:
“In talking about recovery we acknowledge that it is not necessarily easy or straightforward. Many people describe the need to persevere and to find ways to maintain hope through the most trying times.”

While running the consultation on self-harm and recovery CAPS tried as hard as possible to make it clear that the organisation has no specific view on recovery and that all and any views were welcome in the consultation.

In CAPS experience there are a variety of views of recovery that range from very positive to people who feel it is not useful or reflective of their experiences in any way. As an advocacy organisation we feel it is very important to represent all of these views, especially when recovery has become a very dominant discourse in mental health services. However, it is important to remember that the current concept of recovery came from mental health activists and explicitly states that it is a unique personal experience, which may or may not involve on-going support.
The initial aim of using the word recovery was to turn the tide away from deficit-focused services and concentrate on strengths and assets at least on an equal footing with needs and issues. Some people feel that the recovery concept has been ‘hijacked’ by mainstream statutory services and fundamentally changed from the originally intended meaning.

As statutory services have embraced the concept of recovery it has become less a self-defined experience so much as part of a pre-defined healthcare pathway. In Scotland there is a strong focus on recovery, but a lack of consensus on the meaning and how this might look in terms of support and treatment. It is becoming increasingly difficult to be someone who does not ‘sign up’ to the concept of recovery. On the other hand huge changes in approach and services have been brought about with the more positive and hopeful focus that recovery has injected into mental health services.

Results of the Survey

112 people responded to an anonymous online survey over one month. As the title indicates the results gave us a collective, not a consensus view. The responses showed both consensus and a wide variety of opinions. Both broad and narrow views of what recovery could mean were expressed and this also impacted on whether people felt recovery was possible.

What is Recovery?

“Self-harm is easy, but recovery is hard.”
Throughout the survey responses there was a strong indication or implication that ‘recovery from self-harm’ meant ‘stopping’; however, this was a concept that seemed to be associated with others’ expectations rather than the personal beliefs of people responding to the survey.

“There’s no easy way to sugar coat this – recovery is hard. It’s hard, painful and a lot of the time a solitary, uphill climb. And the thing most people forget is that recovery isn’t so much a destination; where one is magically “cured”, but more a daily journey of choosing life, choosing healthy coping mechanisms, choosing to not let the pain take over.”

Recovery as defined by the Scottish Recovery Network is seen a unique and individual experience and this was reflected in people’s views on the concept of recovery.


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