Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cutting and Self-Harm - A Naturopathic Perspective

The purpose of this article is not to write a comprehensive review of causes and all treatments for cutting and self-harm. Rather this is simply insights from my perspective as a Naturopathic doctor.

Cuting and self-harm is a coping mechanism for mental symptoms such as depression. Depersonalization can be described as feeling disconnected from one's physicality. This can be related to self-harm as well.
There are some basics aspects of self-harm which I'll review first:
  • Self harm is not a suicide attempt, and does not mean someone wishes to die.
  • Self-harm injuries are generally superficial (it's very unlikely that one will accidentally kill themselves).
  • People who self harm are often embarrassed by cuts/scars, try to hide them, and are not seeking attention.
  • Self harm is addictive – it involves release of endorphins, and as someone self harms, over time they will tend to need to do it more often, or more severely in order to get the same release.
  • Stopping self-harm can be a slow process, with occasional relapses just like other addictions.

Self Harm Is A Symptom – Not A Disease, Nor Is It A “Mental Illness”

People who self-harm do so out of inner distress. This may be depression, or even a self-inflicted punishment.
Often depressed people feel nothing, or numb. The physical pain at times may feel better, than feeling nothing at all.
Regardless of the cause, it should be obvious that “self-harm” is not a “disease” or “mental illness” in and of itself. What should be treated are the causes of emotional distress which lead to self-harm.

Self harm is not an enjoyable act. Generally people do not enjoying sticking themselves with sharp objects or other forms of self injury. When the mental symptoms are relieved, then the self-harm will stop.

Psychiatric Drugs For Self Harm

The psychiatric bible known a the DSM contains all the psychiatric “diagnoses.” This book explicitly states that “diagnoses” are not medical conditions. A psychiatric label is simply a description of symptoms and behaviors. The DSM does not list objective medical tests for any supposed“chemical imbalance” because such tests do not exist.

Nonetheless, patients are still told that psychiatric “diagnosis” represent biological diseases and which are treated with psychiatric drugs.

Our society tends to fight against problems, rather than holistically appraising (and addressing) the cause.
It is certainly much more profitable to create billion dollar industries to fight a problem, rather than fixing the causing. But also, when we “fight” a problem, we take away the need to reflect on the cause.
So, following this tendency, psychiatrists prescribe drugs for “chemical imbalances” that have never been proven.

So what does this say about taking a psychiatric medication for self-harm?

1) In no way do psychiatric drugs address the causes of self harm.
2) Psychiatric drugs are in themselves a form of self harm! We need to ask, what does it say about a society that so willing give ourselves (and children) neurological toxins that do harm the body, just in a way that is not visible to the eye.

Self-harm causes physical damage to the body (typically skin) in order to help cope with emotional distress. Psychiatric drugs cause physical harm to the brain and nervous system (and other system) in order to help cope with emotional distress.

What is the difference?

Perhaps with self-harm is is clear that the emotional distress is still there and scars may be discomforting. With psychiatric drugs, we can pretend things are better because they appear to be.

Are there cases of self-harm that are so severe psychiatric drugs are warranted? This is a subjective question, and I think best answered by the patients themselves, based upon their individual situations. If someone finds a psychiatric drug helpful, who has any right to tell them otherwise. However, the truth doesn't change – these are basically poisonous substances that are not fixing the the real problem.

Psychiatry And Mental Illness Theory – Society Not Looking At Anything But Itself

One of the worst things that can be told to someone who self-harms (or who has another “mental illness”) is that this is a biological disease.

When we tell someone they have an inherent, biological condition brain disorder, that in effect dis-empowers them. How is it helpful to say, based on zero objective evidence whatsoever, that someone has an inherent brain disorder?

For from taking away the stigmatizations of metal illness, this reinforces it! It is telling people they are inherently defective!

The only person who can ever heal anyone, is the individual acting in concert with the healing power of nature. The practitioner should be there to act as a guide and assist the body in this process.
But this model, of inherent brain disease this transfers power to heal – away from the patient – and to the practitioner. Thus it serves the psychiatrist and whole mental health field much better than it serves the patient.

But even worse, this is simply not true. Psychiatry has no evidence whatsoever that conditions they claim are biological, and have biological treatments for, are in fact biological.

If they did, they would give patients biological tests. They don't, because they have no tests.
Furthermore, when society as a whole adopts this stance that mental symptoms such as depression and self-harm are in fact biological, it's a way of defending society itself.

No longer are we confronted with questions of how our society produces so many mental disorders. No longer must we ask why so many young people are resorting to self-harm!

At this point I am diverging from my role as Naturopathic Doctor and into social criticism. However, if Naturopathy has taught me anything, is is the interconnectedness of the whole unit. You can not study “mental illness” (or any illness) as somehow separate from the rest of the body. Likewise, we can not fully understand the illnesses of the individual, unless we account for the environment the whole person lives in.

The rise of certain illnesses must be put into context. Just as the epidemics of autism and auto-immune disease reflects problems with the environment, so too do the many young people who are engaging in self-harm.

The larger question is how has society itself failed young people?
But if believe this is all due to inherent biological brain illness, then there is no reason to put the question up to society as a whole.

How Do I, As A Naturopathic Doctor Help Someone Who Self-Harms?

I can not speak for all of Naturopathy. But this is what I do:


Symptoms are the body's best attempt to deal with the totality of current stresses.

There are two things with cause “disease.” It does not matter if symptoms are physical or mental.

Deficiency – or not giving the body what it needs.
Toxicity – or giving the body things it doesn't need.

Psychologically speaking, children can be put into very toxic environment. Abusive parents, or social abuse (bullying) at school are common. However, children may have symptoms not due to abuse, but simply because they were given the emotional support needed. There is a phenomena of “proximal abandonment” where perhaps the parents are physically present, but not emotionally available.

Physical toxicity or deficient may be easier to understand. B12 deficiency can cause depression. Lead toxicity can cause a number of mental symptoms.

for more I suggest this video from psychetruth

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