Coping Skills for Teens Who Self-Harm

One of the most common reasons teens come to my practice is because they are currently engaging in self-harm behaviors. Self-harm is one coping skill that teens and adults use to cope with emotional pain or trauma. Some types of self-harm that I work with include: 

  • Cutting or scratching. 
  • Burning or scalding skin. 
  • Hitting or banging one's head. 
  • Punching things or throwing one's body against hard objects. 
  • Picking one's skin to the point of bleeding. 

For the purposes of this piece, I am going to share two coping skills that I share with many teens who are self-harming.

Disclaimer: These coping skills do not represent an entire treatment plan. Rather, they are two coping skills that I would suggest to teens in addition to their treatment plan. 


Many of my teen clients who cut are active young women who have difficulty expressing their emotions verbally. Many of them state that they were first attracted to cutting because it provided them an instantaneous sense of release without having to discuss negative feelings. For these clients I always suggest they find ways to "change their physical state," and find coping skills that boost their endorphins and provide them with not only emotional comfort but also physical comfort. 

Some of these coping skills include: 

  • Going for a run. 
  •  Laying down in the cool grass and looking up at the sky. 
  • Standing in front of the refrigerator and taking three deep breaths. 
  • Taking a shower. 
  • Going swimming. 
  • Taking five minutes to do a funny YouTube workout video. 
  • Snuggling with a furry animal. 


Every once in a while, the fashion industry creates a product that actually helps teenagers. Many of you have probably already seen these gold, temporary tattoos on the shelves of small boutiques around Los Angeles or on I use these temporary tattoos all the time with my clients, and especially with teen girls. Part of overcoming the desire to cut involves empowering teens to view their bodies as sacred spaces. When a teen is engaging in cutting behaviors we often spend time talking about the beauty and worthiness of their own body. We talk about way that they can begin to love their own skin and stop fighting against it. Then I ask my client to put one of these tattoos somewhere where she would often cut. For parents it’s often good to keep a pile of these somewhere at home. That way anytime the teen feels like cutting she can spend ten or so minutes putting on a tattoo, waiting for it to dry, and looking at it. I find that by the time the tattoo is dry the desire to cut has lessened. 

Here are a few tattoos I like. You can also find more here

Here are a few tattoos I like. You can also find more here