Interpersonal processes and self-injury: a qualitative study using Bricolage

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Literature on self-injury has recognized the impact on the relationship between clients and staff.


There is an absence of a detailed account of interpersonal processes surrounding self-injury.


A Bricolage qualitative research approach was carried out in the United Kingdom that explored the interpersonal processes surrounding self-injury.


Three pairs of clients and staff were interviewed about an incident of self-injury. The interviews were thematically analysed and then synthesized producing a deeper exploration of the relationship between the client and staff.


An interpersonal trigger followed by anger and shame, resulted in self-injury to ‘numb’ these experiences.


Self-injury is conceptualized as a safety behaviour to avoid shame and anger and then as a maintenance cycle that traps the client in a reinforcing and rejecting relationship. Staff interviewed were able to reflect with the clients and help them reframe these experiences.

Implications for practice:

Mental Health Nurses can work with clients to understand their own interpersonal cycles of self-injury. They can then reflect on their own roles in this process and avoid reinforcing the clients' negative beliefs.

What the study adds to international evidence

This is the first international paper to explore the interconnection between the client and a professional helper in their lived experiences of self-injury.

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