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Cutting to Live: A Phenomenology of Self-Harm


  • Tiffany B. Brown,

  • Thomas Kimball

Address correspondence to Tiffany Brown, Counseling Psychology and Human Services, 5251, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, 97403; E-mail:


This exploratory study utilizes a phenomenological methodology as described by Moustakas (Phenomenological research methods, Sage Publications, 1994). Data were gathered via qualitative face-to-face interviews from a midsize southwestern community. Eleven participants, ten females and one male, were included in this study. Data suggested three categories that described the participants’ experiences of self-harm: Self-harm is Misunderstood, Self-Harm has a Role, and Advice to Professionals. Among these categories, 11 themes emerged, including Self-Harm is Not Suicide, Self-Harm is an Addiction, Individuals Who Self-Harm are Traumatized, Help That’s Not Helpful, Self-Harm is a Release, Physical Pain versus Emotional Pain, Self-Harm IS Control, and Need to be Punished. Advice to professionals who work with individuals who self-harm is offered by the participants. The study concludes with a discussion of the phenomenon of self-harm, as well as clinical and training implications for professionals. Future directions for research are also discussed.

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